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Familiarity in the Unfamiliar. Friendship as the Key to Cultural Adaptation

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Familiarity in the Unfamiliar.

Friendship as the key to Cultural Adaptation

Living abroad for a time has come to be an accepted, if not expected, part of the life of the modern enlightened person. The reasons for such a journey are as varied as the people themselves. Although the difficulties they inevitably face, and the underlying reasons for them, show remarkable similarity.

The difficulties associated with living abroad partially to do with a change in the physical environment, but most of the problems that sojourners face are related to a change in society and culture (Brein & David 1971). These problems are often described as culture shock.

"Hall (1959) Defined culture shock as "a removal or distortion of many of the familiar cues one encounters at home and the substitution for them of other cues which are strange"

(Brein & David 1971)

This paper discusses the experiences of two students who lived abroad for a time. One went to Germany for 9 months to learn the language the other was in Finland for 6 months leading conversation classes, but with no intention of improving his grasp on the language.

It also covers the experiences of a missionary couple who spent over 20 years (five lots of four years) in the Philippines, though for comparative reasons I will only cover the first four year stay.

Hypothesis

Many factors effect the adaptation process: differences in culture, quality of life, language proficiency, technical competence, pre-emptive training, support abroad, daily activities, and personality (Mendenhall and Oddou 1985, Brein & David 1971)

These factors play a role in cultural adaptation and well-being. Much of this argument concentrates on the role of friends, as it seems to be the pivotal factor around which all others fade in comparison.

All of the informants had extremely varied experiences, though the defining factor which seemed to aid or impede adaptation, was the presence or absence of good friends and a healthy social life.

This aspect is proved (Black 1988), and generally recognised to be as a defining factor in the degree of adjustment in the sojourner (Brein & David 1971, Black, Mendenhall and Oddou 1991), though this paper will go into the reasons why this is true with specific evidence and opinions from informants.

This paper postulates that an healthy social life strongly influences all other areas of life abroad which are attributed to the well adjusted individual. Therefore friendship is the main key to becoming a well adjusted sojourner.

Good communication skills are a perquisite for forming meaningful relationships (Brein & David 1971, Mendenhall and Oddou 1985)). This does not refer solely competence in the necessary language, but involves non-verbal communication and cultural differences (Church 1982, Mendenhall and Oddou 1985).

"Ð'... the interpersonal functioning of the sojourner, that is his adjustment, is dependent

on the development of understanding between himself and his hostÐ'.... Ð'...Thus the sojourner's adjustment is seen to be a function of effective intercultural communication between sojourner and host."

(Brein & David 1971)

Poor understanding of cultural values and conversational cues can be just as much of an obstacle to forming friendships as poor linguistic fluency (Brein & David 1971). In this way pre-departure cultural and linguistic training is very helpful, both to alleviate culture shock and to improve the rate of adaptation (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou 1991).

By relating the work of other academics (on the subject of cultural adaptation) to the experiences of the informants, this paper intends to prove that with an improvement in social relationships leads to all other aspects of adjustment being beneficially influenced.

By examining the main points made by referred authors an attempt will be made to produce a Ð''standard' model for the ways cultural adjustment factors influence each other. Figure 1 shows the main factors generally attributed to the success of the international adaptation process (Brein & David 1971, Black, Mendenhall and Oddou 1991). In figure 2 the author has used the opinions of the informants as well as previous articles on the subject to illustrate how these factors can influence each other.

This model will be adapted to the personal experience of the informants. This will show the relationships between the factors which contribute to how successfully the informant adapted (Figures 3, 4 and 5).

It becomes noticeable that because Sam made a lot of good friends, both Finnish and international, he adapted to a much greater extent than John. John's highly variable relationships often lead to isolation, lack of interest and depression as much as it rewarded him with companionship.

It will be shown that good friends and an active social life does not directly lead to successful cultural adaptation. It is the way meaningful relationships effect all other areas of life abroad, both directly and indirectly, which makes it so important.

When the models and experiences of the informants are compared in the conclusion, the central role played by social networking in all cases will become clear. This paper also postulates that forming meaningful relationships should be the primary objective of a sojourner upon arrival in a foreign culture. For once this has been achieved, all other factors which promote cultural adjustment are favourably influenced, often with little conscious effort on behalf of the sojourner.

The Experiences of the Sojourners

The students had contrasting emotions about their time abroad. Sam and John# shared similar feelings in the weeks before departure but during their time abroad Joseph came to love Finnish culture and the people he knew, while John's elementary cultural misunderstandings lead to extended periods of bitterness and maladjustment.

The main reasons for this vast difference in experience seem to lie in the host family, the social environment and cultural differences/similarities.

Frank and Mary had intensive and appropriate professional training before and after departure. This set them on a firm foundation for cultural adaptation. They integrated rapidly into Filipino culture and made many friends which

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