Culture Shock

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International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 14: 105-119, 1991. © 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

C ross-cultural transitions and wellness:
D ealing with culture shock
Faculty of Social Work, The University of Calgary, Edmonton Division

Abstract. Cross-cultural communication has emerged as a major concern for the helping professions in our multicultural society. Much has been written about recognizing the cultural biases inherent in all problem-solving and development models as well as improving communication between cultural groups. There are some situations, however, where culture itself is the problem rather than simply a communication obstacle to be overcome between client and worker. Counsellors may encounter persons who have been uprooted and transplanted, victims of culture shock, 'casualties of intercultural mobility' (Draguns, 1981, p. 11). This paper examines the unavoidable stress experienced when a person moving to a new culture finds that familiar cues from home are suddenly replaced with strange, ambiguous, and unpredictable cues in the new setting. A ' U-Curve' pattern of adjustment is offered as a conceptual framework for understanding the stressful period of adjustment in a new culture, and several predictor variables are advanced which may influence the degree of culture shock and recovery reported by individuals. The paper concludes with an overview of strategies for wellness, suggestions for promoting adjustment and learning in a new culture.

M o r e t h a n s i m p l y a set o f c u s t o m s , c u l t u r e c o n s t i t u t e s a w a y f u l l y c h a r a c t e r i s t i c o f o r g a n i z i n g life, o f t h i n k i n g a n d o f c o n c e i v i n g t h e u n d e r l y i n g p o s t u l a t e s o f the p r i n c i p a l h u m a n i n s t i t u t i o n s , o f r e l a t i n g to a n d i n t e r a c t i n g w i t h o t h e r i n t e l l i g e n t h u m a n b e i n g s . It influences our way of experimenting with the universe, providing a combination of intermediate patterns which channel our feelings and t h o u g h t s , m a k i n g us r e a c t in a p a r t i c u l a r w a y , d i f f e r e n t f r o m t h o s e w h o h a v e b e e n s u b m e r g e d in d i f f e r e n t p a t t e m s ( G u t i e r r e z , 1973, p. 17). A c u l t u r e c a n b e u n d e r s t o o d f r o m this p e r s p e c t i v e as a n e t w o r k o f s h a r e d m e a n i n g s that are t a k e n f o r g r a n t e d as r e a l i t y b y t h o s e i n t e r a c t i n g w i t h i n t h e n e t w o r k . T h i s v i e w o f c u l t u r e p r o p o s e s that a c o m m u n i t y o f p e o p l e t e n d to construct a common model or map of the world derived from their shared e x p e r i e n c e s a n d t h e n u s e t h e s e p r e - d e t e r m i n e d c a t e g o r i e s as a b a c k g r o u n d or

s etting against which incoming experiences are interpreted. Without such a m odel or map, people would experience the world as totally chaotic and u npredictable. In addition to traditional behaviours and customs, culture then i ncludes a conceptual style which 'reflects more a manner of organizing t hings, of putting things in a certain way, of looking at the world in a distinct f ashion' (Price-Williams, 1980, p. 157). People attempt to structure the o utside world by matching external stimuli against internal conceptual p atterns. When such a match is made, the person is able to give meaning to a n outside event. If the match cannot be made, however, the person may feel d isoriented, frustrated, or afraid. In order to survive and manage in our w orld, we must develop a useful set of expectations which allow us to i nteract with our social environment to meet our needs.

V astly different patterns of experience over time will result in vastly d ifferent world views or background assumptions. People with different c ultures will perceive the...
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