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Cultural Adjustment

When you first walk off the plane, you might look around and see signs in a different language, hear people communicating in a foreign language.

A panic sets in, your first thought might be to turn around and hop back on the plane that has just brought you to this strange land. For others, you may feel a sense of great excitement, of eagerness to "begin," whatever that might mean to you. And for a handful of you returning to a place where you've been before, stepping off the plane might bring a sense of homecoming. As time goes by and you settle into your routine, register for classes, begin the process of making friends and explore the area you now call home, you will be going through many emotional, psychological, and possibly, physical changes. This is what is known as "cultural adjustment" or "cultural adaptation." You cannot avoid these changes, but as long as you recognize them when they occur, you will be better prepared to deal with their consequences.

The Importance of Defining "Culture"

It is difficult to begin a discussion on cultural adjustment without first defining the word "culture" and what makes culture.

According to American Heritage Dictionary, culture is defined as "the arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought created by a people or group at a particular time." If you were to ask several different people what they thought culture meant, you might get a list like L. Robert Kohls did when he wrote Survival Kit for Overseas Living:
  • manners and customs
  • beliefs and ideas
  • ceremonies and rituals
  • laws (written & unwritten)
  • ideas and thought patterns
  • language
  • arts and artifacts
  • social institutions
  • religious beliefs
  • myths & legends
  • knowledge
  • values and morals
  • concept of self
  • accepted ways of behaving
Kohls found that people were describing the total way of life of any group people. And to complicate matters, everyone has their own personal culture. Yours may be your preference for cowboy boots over sneakers, or rap music over classical. In short, there is no one correct list of components of culture but at least you can get a sense of what makes up culture.