Friday, October 13, 2006

Culture Shock

There is a reason why I feel badly, it is culture shock

ha ha ha, have you seen that episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants?

But this is real. At the meeting last night they talked about Culture Shock a bit and gave out a web site link to read.

Here are some points, good things to remember if you plan on moving overseas: I think the best ones are the ones in bold.

1. A fish on dry land
Moving to another country creates great pressure. The concept “culture shock” first appeared in 1958 in order to explain the stress that often follows moving from one culture to another. People don’t know how to behave in a new place and is not able to use previous knowledge to deal with a new situation.
It is important to understand the nature of culture shock to make it possible to react to it in a appropriate way.

When people move from one country to another, it can be compared to a fish on dry land. As the fishes, they have been swimming in their own culture all their lives. A fish doesn’t know what water is. In the same way we do not think that much about the culture which has molded us. When we suddenly find ourselves in a new and alien environment and culture, everything becomes complicated.

Emotional strain can be unbearable for children and especially teenagers. The children meet a number of new people and they must learn new habits and a new language. They have been torn away from relatives, grandparents, friends, playmates and teachers, supportive people they seek to in trouble.

It can be difficult and painful to be without language in a strange place because the language is the key to all communication.
The pain can also come from the parents’ disability to help the child because they don’t know either how to behave. Other aspects are not as obvious. Familiar sounds, view, smell and taste is not there anymore.

In all cultures, there are unwritten rules about people’s dealings with each other. They appear for instance in body language and voice.
Many students of foreign origin become confused because of what for them appears to be a lack of disciplin in Icelandic schools. Children who are used to military discipline and formal relations in school, can react to freedom and unformal relations with wild behaviour. They have been deprived of all referential limits for behaviour and they have to look for new limits. They become confused and insecure under such circumstances.

Therefore it is important to inform students and parents about the school system and personal relations in school.
It is important to create conditions that make adjustment easier. Difficult circumstances further increase the pressure.
Teachers must be patient to take time to explain the simplest things that the Icelandic children learned when they started going to school. Perhaps the ideas of many students are narrow about studying directions, or their ideas are just different from ours. It takes time to figure out the studies in a school that has very different values and ideas from the schools in the old country.
For instance:
- to acquire knowledge in an independent way.
- that help is available when one asks about it.
- that one is studying for oneself in order to enhance ones development and knowledge.

The informal freedom that characterizes the Icelandic schools can be hard to handle, perhaps the most difficult aspects for all, students, parents and teacher. If cooperation between the adults and the students is not achieved on this stage, it can have negative influence on the studies in the long run.
Simple habits in Icelandic schools can also be difficult for people.
Some children don’t know for instance why everybody is sent outside in recess, no matter how the weather is, or why everybody must take off the shoes. In fact, many Asian peoples are used to that custom.

2. Five stages of culture shock
Culture shock is divided into five stages. Each stage can be long standing or appears only under certain conditions. It is important to realize that culture shock is a perfectly normal condition which affects persons differently, just as grief, shock and other pressures in life. Some people show stronger reactions than others and not all experience all the five stages of culture shock.

THE FIRST STAGE is often called the honeymoon stage. It is characterized by tension and expectations. While it is going on, people enjoy the excitement that arises from being in a new place where everything is interesting. Some people never leave this initial stage of the exitement that goes along with being abroad. They are constantly experiencing a mild ecstacy and behave like eternal tourists: travel to new and interesting places, make friends only with their fellow countrymen and retain their old way of living. For most people however, the honeymoon passes by and they enter into the second and most difficult stage of the culture shock.

THE SECOND STAGE is the actual shock. We experience that with our students in the Reception Department. Therfore it will be discussed more thoroughly than the other stages.

It can be characterized with loss of courage and general discomfort. Changes in character occur, depression, lack of self-confidence and irritation, people become more vulnerable and prone to crying, more worried about their health, suffer from headache, bad stomach and complaint about pain and allergy. Difficulties with concentration often occur and reduce the ability to learn a new language. These factors increase the anxiety and the stress.

In the following period, the self-awareness dissolves and people have trouble with solving simple problems. Conversations on this stage are about things that can not be bought, what you must get along without, and everything that the people in the new country do wrong (which means “differently”). This stage can be characterized with escape, because in this period you always think of returning to the old country.

People tend to regard ones own culture as the only way to do the things. This attitude has been called "ethnocentrism". That is the belief that ones own culture, race and nation is the navel of the world. Individuals identify with their own group and its habits. All critical remarks are regarded as a provocation to the individual just as the group. “If you criticize me, you are criticizing my country, if you criticize my country, you are criticizing me.”

Therefore people often show hostile and aggressive resistance against the host country on the second stage of the culture shock. This hostility comes from natural difficulties that a family or individuals run into in the adjustment process. "I feel terribly in the new country, there must be something terribly wrong here"!!!

There are problems in school, difficulties with language, trouble with lodging and employment as well as the fact that the people in the host country just don’t care about these problems or don’t seem to understand them. The result is aggressiveness and discomfort because the people don’t seem like foreigners at all.

Therefore it is important to understand culture shock and what is going on in relations between people. It is important to consider carefully the conduct toward people suffering from culture shock. In the beginning, people are often well received, but when time passes and the novelty disappears, the attitude often turns into indifference or dislike which immigrants experience as hostility. Thus aggressive hostility can escalate on both sides.

Instead of regarding the difficulties in a cultural context, people speak about these problems as if they were specially invented by the host country, in order to get the visitor into a trouble. Under such circumstances, circulating stereotypes emerge, which can lead to collisions if people doesn’t practice tolerance. “These Icelanders”, or “these immigrants” are so and so.......!NG>
THE THIRD STAGE of culture shock is characterized with one’s plunging into new ways of living. With patience, it is possible to reach this stage by the end of the first year. Key aspects in a new culture are being learned and the earlier chaos and lack of direction seldom appears. Relations with the native population are initiated, such as neighbours and workmates or schoolmates. The vocabulary and pronunciation is being learned. Instead of standing outside and watching the culture with critical eyes, people plunge into the life of the new country.

THE FOURTH STAGE is the final stage of the assimilation, characterized with full participation in the way of life in the new country. People seldom think of “them” and “us”. They have assimilated to life, regarding both emotions and general activities and life just as easy as before moving.

THE FIFTH STAGE: Long after people have moved back to the homeland, something unexpected happens. They experience the fifth stage of the culture shock. It is called a reverse culture shock or returning shock, and appears after the return home again. The homeland is not comfortable any more because people have been away from home for a long time and have become comfortable with customs and habits belonging to a new lifestyle. Much has changed and it takes some time to get used to way of life, gestures and symbols of one’s own culture.

3. The family and culture shock
To move away from home, from familiar surroundings and the supportive net of family and friends, disturbs the balance of the whole family. Roles of married couples often change, especially if one spouse leaves a job to follow the other on a career track. The parenting responsibility changes or becomes more even, which can evoke regret and anger in the beginning.
Open communication within the family is crucial in the first year. It is important that children are allowed to talk about uncomfortable feelings, such as anger, despair and regret, in order to reduce inappropriate behaviour and prevent that these emotions affect the behaviour outside the home.

Children in school/Teenagers
Children in school often share the honeymoon stage with the parents but then continue to the next stage of the culture shock, when the difference frightens them. The atmosphere at home also affects them.
It is common that in the beginning, teenagers become angry and rebellious because of the moving. They are more strongly rooted with their peers in social life and school in the homeland than their younger siblings who assimilate more easily to a new situation. But when time passes, and with appropriate support from the parents, open communication and patience, they begin to boast to their friends “at home” about exiting life in a new country.
e=Gott_og_slæmt>Good and bad
The good is that the family’s culture shock will end sometime, the bad thing is that the only way to get rid of it is to go through it. Parents have to be prepared for six difficult months. Here are some suggestions to parents in order to make the assimilation easier:
Be patient, patient, and more patient, in listening and discussing with the children, much more than before. Be available as much as possible.
Explain the culture shock and its stages for them, no matter which age they are. Parents often underestimate children’s understanding.
Make sure the children can allow themselves to express their anger or other so-called negative feelings, so their frustrations are not expressed in inappropriate places outside the home (for instance, if the child gets excited in school, when it has never behaved like that before).
Don’t deny the existence of the culture shock. If you are a perfectionist, not allowing time for assimilation, then you can fixate your family in a difficult stage of the culture shock. Some children seem to be able to go smoothly through changes. Others can’t, and if their sensitivity to this situation is denied, it can extend the “runaway” stage.
Create as much stability as possible and create a new family-pattern as soon as possible. Stable habits are important. Be present, to discuss with your children what is new and different in their environment and answer all questions. Keep to your values in upbringing and make sure to help them get foothold. Help your children to join other children in playing outside, which brings children together
If you feel that your child, children or family are not adjusting to the new environment, don’t hesitate to seek help with experts. There is no shame to seek external consultation. It is often possible to achieve much with an objective, trained expert. There is no reason to suffer an unnecessary longstanding stress, seek help!
Don’t count on being a perfect parent in this period. Do your best, be always flexible and retain your sense of humor.

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