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Culture Shock
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Intercultural Communication

Perhaps the major contributor to discomfort in a foreign environment is the increased difficulty of communicating what one wishes to communicate and of receiving the information one wishes to receive. You will bring your own communication habits, both verbal and non-verbal, that sometimes do not transcend cultural limits. Studies of intercultural communication have shown that the amount of time and energy needed for simple communication increases dramatically as cultural differences increase. Your own gestures and other non-verbal cues can act, unbeknownst to you, as hindrances to communication. Your perceptions of any given person or situation can be quite different from the other person's perception.

Recognize that other cultures may use different verbal and non-verbal communication methods. Body language, the use of "personal space" when talking and other non-verbal communication can be very different from what you are used to in the United States. Likewise, some cultures are not nearly as frank, sarcastic or confrontational when discussing certain topics. Sometimes things are implied in conversation but not overt. It is important to remember that differences in communication styles are just that â?? different.

Imposition of Personal Values

The tendency of people to impose their own values and assumptions onto others in a new culture usually inhibits cross-cultural understanding. While in a new situation you should avoid making judgments that come from your own cultural perspective. For example, donâ??t jump to the conclusion that someone in a new culture is "cheating" or "lying," when that person's behavior may be the result of other motives. Be open-minded, receptive to different ideas, concepts and behaviors. A certain amount of "cultural self-analysis" might reveal much about your own motivations and value system; such knowledge can contribute to increased communication skills, increased acceptance and understanding of others, and more productive interaction. Until you have acquired enough self-knowledge to realize the true extent to which your outward personality is shaped by cultural habits and values, you will not be completely capable of comprehending or learning from the cultural habits and values of a different society.

Influence of Time within a New Culture

Cross-cultural adaptation is a continuing process, with continuous evolution of insights, knowledge, physical skills and emotional skills. Of course, it is possible to live for years in a new culture and never be affected by it; but those involved in cross-cultural adjustment never cease to learn from the experience. It is important that you to be flexible with new-found knowledge, to be prepared to discover that any single piece of information might not have universal applicability in the culture. Language learning provides an example: you will often learn new words or tenses then, until you learn more, you may use that new vocabulary in inappropriate situations.

Will I lose my own Culture?

Sometimes students worry about "losing their culture" if they become too well adapted to the host culture. Don't worry: it is virtually impossible to lose the culture in which you were raised. In fact, learning about the new culture often increases your appreciation for and understanding of your own culture. Don't resist the opportunity to become bicultural, able to function in two cultural environments.

Just as culture shock derives from the accumulation of cultural clashes, accumulation of small successes can lead to more effective interactions within the new culture. As you increase your abilities to manage and understand the new social system, practices that recently seemed so strange will become less puzzling. Eventually you will adapt sufficiently to do your best in your studies and social life and to relax and fully enjoy the experience. And you will recover your sense of humor!

A more positive reaction is to assume or take on many of the new culture's norms, especially those involved in expressing yourself to others both in image and language. As the length of time in the new culture grows, your ability to learn from your experiences should increase, as should your awareness of your own culture influence assumptions and of your personal motivations and value systems.