Those that make the move to a new country are usually beset by mixed feelings. They long for relatives, friends and familiar places and things that they are leaving behind, but also eager to find out what their new home will be like."
Many are prepared to “rough it,” and even though their destination may be a flourishing city, in their mind’s eye it is unexplored territory.
And such it is, for now they are going to discover a new the culture of a foreign country.
They will listen to and learn an unfamiliar tongue and observe and even practice different customs. A difficult thing to do, you might say?
Obviously, we are not born with a particular culture. Nothing in our genes or skin color forces us to speak English instead of Spanish or to ride a donkey instead of a horse.
But considering the vast differences in cultures throughout the world, it is reasonable to believe that the one is going to find many broad rivers that separate one from understanding the culture in a new country.
This might cause one to think:
Why should l try to adjust myself? l like things just as they are. I enjoy getting together with my fellow countrymen from back home to talk things over. l can speak a little of the native language, but really l do not understand these people here, or their way of thinking or things! “
Ah, such expressions suggest that a person is suffering from a touch of the not too rare disease called “culture shock.”
What is culture shock?
We might call culture shock an occupational disease of people who have suddenly been transplanted in a foreign country.
Their first reaction is to reject the environment which causes the discomfort.
Some other symptoms of culture shock are: excessive washing of the hands, excessive concern over drinking water, food dishes and bedding; fear of physical contact with attendants or servants; the absent-minded, far-away stare (sometimes called the tropical stare).
There is also feelings of helplessness and a desire for dependence on long-term residents of one’s own nationality.
One may suffer from excessive fear of being cheated, robbed, or injured, great concern over minor pains and eruptions of the skin and finally that terrible longing to be back home.
'But that’s not me’ one might say. ‘Why, I like it here. I even have close friends among the neighbors.’ That is fine. But consider.
Are you happy speaking just a little of the language? Can you appreciate a clever anecdote or, even better; relate one in the new tongue?
Have you learned some of the local idioms and do you enjoy the pleased looks of others when you ably use one?
Can you honestly say you enjoy the company of the native-born as much as that of your own countrymen? Maybe not.
Cross culture bridge building
The obstacle to bridging completely the gap that separates one from his new neighbors is a disposition developed while growing up in one’s native country.
It may be an almost unconscious feeling, unrecognized until pinpointed.
It is called “ethno-centrism,” and is defined as:
A habitual disposition to judge foreign peoples or groups by the standards and practices of one’s own culture. There is a tendency towards viewing alien cultures with disfavor and a resulting sense of inherent superiority.”In other words, it is a nationalistic attitude that says in effect, ‘Your way is not good; my way is best.’
Needless to say, this way of thinking is offensive; and if this is your trouble you will have to make some adjustments in your bridge building.
But one might object:
I’m not going to change my identity just because I have changed my address. And I’m certainly not going to go native!"
This, however, is not necessary in order to be successful in bridging the gulf that separates one from understanding the culture of his new country.
Understanding the ways of a people is essential but this does not mean that you have to give up your own.
The important thing to remember is that one’s native way of doing things is not necessarily always the best.
Perhaps where one came from it was, but in a new country with different circumstances another way may be better.
Some people have become interested in foreign cultures and, in time, have considered them superior to their own.
For example some missionaries assigned to foreign lands have slowly and even unwittingly “gone native” in the sense that they are perfectly happy doing things in a new and different way.
They will even do their thinking and sometimes dreaming in their adopted language. What a rich experience!
On the other hand, there are typically hundreds of families that every year that make a permanent move to another country. They may migrate for a number of reasons.
What should they expect?
One thing is sure, they will discover new manners and methods, some acceptable and some not.
They will be thrilled, shocked, pleased and impressed.
But the best part of it is that they will have the opportunity to build a bridge between their native culture and foreign culture.