Indicators of cultural stress

Adapted by a friend from T. Wayne Dye’s “Stress-producing factors in cultural adjustment” (Missiology 2 1974: 61-77) – “transmogrified Dye”.

1. Withdrawal and rejection of new “host” culture.
You gather your courage in both hands and go to visit someone in their courtyard, and a hundred children follow you till you feel like the pied piper, and people all talk at once, and laugh, and it is so difficult and you feel humiliated. So the next day you decide maybe you won’t go visiting. You’ll stay home because there’s so much to do. So you rationalize. And one withdrawal leads to another.

How the problem of withdrawal shows up:

1.1 Avoidance. You find more and more reasons to avoid the host culture, sleeping, writing letters home, reading …. All of these are extremely necessary activities, but if they become the only thing you do, someone needs to ask some searching questions about how you are working on culture learning. An overemphasis in some activity can become a symptom of withdrawal.

1.2 Endless complaining and fault-finding

Displayed bitterly in statements like:

  • “All the people in this culture are completely unreasonable” (implying that if they were reasonable they’d do everything my way).
  • “These people are lazy and indifferent (read ‘inferior to me’).”
  • “These people are so selfish.” (They only think of me as a source of money and material goods. They’re always asking me for money. They’re always asking me for things and trying to take advantage of me….)

1.3 Everything back home takes on an immense importance.

  • Friends and relatives back home begin to look like the saints and angels.
  • I spend fruitless hours thinking about the food back where I came from. (Listen to a couple of Americans sitting around wishing for a hamburger, french fries, a coke and an ice cream.)
  • I become intensely patriotic. My country can do no wrong.

1.4 I become obsessive about health, and germs. Here we’re not talking about ordinary health precautions. But I remember one woman who used to make all her guests take their shoes off and soak their feet in lysol before they walked into her house. Or take the example of some Swiss tourists in Mali who insisted on taking baths with filtered water.

2. Another (and quite different) indicator of culture shock or stress: “going native” in which a person totally rejects his or her home culture. The rationale is that the home culture has failed …. by not preparing me for the difficulties of this situation … so my own culture is worthless and I will simply abandon it, as it is useless to me here. What is more, other people from my home culture do not understand, so they are not to be trusted.

The result of this kind of denial is that the person in culture shock, doesn’t have any objective way to valuate his or her situation, and swallows the new culture whole, without exercising any judgment.
They begin to lead a life of imitation, mindless imitation, and emotional dependence.
The way they cope is by saying that everything in the new life is good, and everything from the past is bad.

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One thought on “Indicators of cultural stress

  1. […] Shock: 1) Intro, 2) responses; 3) indicators, 4) stages, 5) what to do […]

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