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Culture Shock & Cultural Identity Issues

Funny thing about a person's culture: it is simultaneously everywhere, and somehow invisible to us. It's like the parable about the old fish who swims past two young fish and asks “How's the water?” and then one of the young fish turns to the other one and asks “what the heck is water?” We don't tend to think much about (our) culture until we encounter somebody else's -- and especially until when we experience other people's cultures as shocking, confusing, disconcerting or... just 'wrong.' 

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Cultural assimilation is not just some fun theoretical concept one learns in school. Doing it successfully can mean the difference between getting a job and going hungry, between having friends or not having friends, between being shunned or being accepted in your new community, and between surviving and thriving.

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Culture Shock: you grew up in the US and you're about to move to another country for work or school

Well, you got the job, or maybe you got the Junior Year Abroad spot you applied for. Time to pack not only the essentials, but also a greater understanding of what this is going to demand of you. Maybe it's even your first time out of the country, and you wonder, what will it be like? How will I be received? What can I do to assimilate, all while not giving up what makes me... me? Hold on a second -- what DOES make me... ME? There are four different phases which people go through when experiencing culture shock: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. I can help you prepare by examining how your past experiences and beliefs about yourself might influence how you handle it all. The good news is that adapting to a new culture will provide you with higher levels of resiliency and adaptability, skills which will be useful in many future situations going forward.

Reverse Culture Shock: you grew up in the US, you studied or worked abroad, and you're back and are thinking... er... whhhhhaaattt?

Funny how reverse culture shock works - you used to find certain customs and behaviors 'normal,' and now that you're back, you're looking at them through a completely different lens. It's kind of weird, because you did miss the US while you were away (and not just the pop-tarts and other delicacies). Now that you're back you feel different from your peers and your family, and don't know how to deal with it. Your friends aren't necessarily helpful, as they too find you changed. As for you, you want to talk about your adventures and newfound worldviews, but are unsure if your friends' patience isn't maybe wearing thin...

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You grew up outside the States and you're having trouble adjusting to life in the US

Whether you came by yourself or with your family, well, here you are. Depending on how the locals tend to view your culture and where you came from, you tend to deal with anywhere from zero to an intolerable amount of disdain and discrimination. Depending on whether you're here temporarily or permanently, and whether or not this was your choice, you feel left out either because you don't speak English well enough (yet!) or because you still can't figure out that interminable list of unwritten American customs that still perplex you to your core.

 

 

You immigrated to the US with your family, you adjusted just fine but others in your family... er... not so much!

This can be a tricky one. Kids can be more resilient than adults -- so here you are, your family's previous homeland remains just a vague memory and you are ready to be American to your CORE. You find it frustrating that your parents (not to mention your grandparents) do not understand either your desire or the ease with which you blend in. To them, it can sometimes feel like this ease is a negation of your family, and you need help navigating this family discord.

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You're one nationality (or from one culture), and your partner/spouse is another -- and it can be a problem.

Like the main characters on the American TV show 'Modern Family,' you and your partner/spouse come from different cultures. What to do? Most unfortunately, life is not like TV and hilarity does not necessarily ensue, and you'd like some help understanding their viewpoint without losing your own. Perhaps you're having difficulty navigating parenthood because you come from different cultures and you're both convinced yours is the 'right one' and you need some help sorting it all out.

 

Sometimes you feel one cultural identity, sometimes you feel another, and aren't sure how to combine them all

As people become more and more mobile, and other people's cultures grace our tv screens and computer screens more and more, we can learn how to successfully forge a cultural identity which we feel is a good fit for us and which we can happily inhabit - until we decide to tweak it for a new one. 

We can be blind to our own culture:

how it influences how we see the world...

and how it influences our interactions with others.

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