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Whenever an individual enters a new culture for any length of time, that person must go through a process of readjustment. The myriad of implicit life rules learned in one's first culture may not be valid in the new setting and a new set of rules must be learned. These include, but are not limited to, rules for what is considered appropriate behavior, social interaction, and communication. It would be fairly easy to learn new rules for living if such were made explicit and one were provided with lists of things to learn. However, most cultural rules operate at a level below conscious awareness and are not easily relayed to your students.
Your ESL students find themselves in the position of having to discover these rules on their own. Since cultural rules, among other functions, make the behavior of individuals fairly predictable to each other thereby easing the native's daily encounters, unfamiliarity with the rules on the part of an ESL student can cause a great deal of stress. A high degree of stress usually accompanies any move to a new culture. To a lesser degree, such stress may accompany even changes to new situations within one's own culture where there are new rules or variations of the rules to which one is accustomed. Such changes may include relocating to a new region of the country, starting a new job in a different organization, learning new ways of learning on an unfamiliar campus, or other. As a conversation leader, you may have some personal experience with this, and you can use it to your advantage. The process of adjustment to a new culture or situation is often characterized by several stages that reflect changes in attitudes and behavior. The length of time one spends in each of these stages varies considerably for each individual, and some individuals completely skip one or more stages, so the stages of cultural adjustment are to be used only as a guide not as a set of rules.
The following is an elaboration of four stages identified and named by Gregory Trifonovitch.
THE HONEYMOON STAGE When a major move to another culture or situation is perceived as a desirable move and is something one has aspired to, the first reaction to the move is joy. The newcomer becomes fascinated with all that is new and is enthusiastic and eager to learn. An individual in this stage may feel exhilarated and excited and will be eager to please the cultural hosts. Students in this stage may be extremely cooperative and a pleasure to work with. However, in their desire to please teachers and peers, they may frequently nod or smile to indicate understanding when, in fact, they have not understood what was said. Over time, misunderstandings begin to accumulate and the unpredictability of others' behavior and reactions begins to wear on the student's patience. When the resulting stress reaches a certain threshold, the newcomer will enter the second stage of cultural adjustment.
THE HOSTILITY STAGE Accumulated misinterpretations and misunderstandings eventually reach a level that becomes intolerable. At this point, the newcomer frequently experiences frustration, anger, anxiety, feelings of insecurity and depression. These feelings begin to be manifested by displays of hostility and criticisms of the new environment and social community. The individual may demonstrate excessive fear in new situations and mistrust people, have fits of anger over minor frustrations, show a lack of interest and motivation, and may even withdraw completely. For students, many academic problems begin during this stage. Students in this stage are going through a painful and difficult period. Although they may be difficult to work with and resist your efforts, this is when they need your tolerance, patience, and assistance with learning the new cultural rules. There is a great deal of individual variation in the length of this stage. Individuals who, for one reason or another, never succeed in mastering the new rules of living, may remain stuck at this point. Most people do eventually learn how to function effectively in the new environment and move on to the next stage of adjustment.
THE HUMOR STAGE As one begins to understand the rules of the new culture and the perceptions become more in line with those of peers and surrounding community, frustrations and insecurity diminish and newcomer begins to relax. A conscious awareness that one is operating by a new set of rules may develop and this facilitates the process of figuring out or learning such rules. The individual becomes more tolerant of her/his own mistakes and may be able to laugh at these. Conscious awareness of the new rules makes them more acceptable and tolerable and the individual can function fairly well in the new culture. Some newcomers, usually adults, remain in this stage permanently. Others move on to the final stage of adjustment.
THE HOME STAGE This stage is characterized by assimilation of the new cultural rules. They have been learned, mastered, and have become automatic. They may recede from a conscious level of use to the extent that the individual begins to think and feel in the same way as her/his peers and social groups. This is the time of real learning both in the second language and socially. Many individuals who reach the home stage lose a portion of their original culture. They leave most of the old rules behind. Others are able to retain the old cultural norms and at the same time assimilate the new. These individuals can easily move from one culture to the other, behaving and interacting appropriately for each setting, and experiencing little difficulty in either setting. These are truly fortunate individuals.
Now that the background information is in place you can start you adventure as a conversation leader. Nothing generates genuine conversation like a fun and interesting activity, and your next step in becoming a conversation leader is to be able to create and direct interesting and fun activities.
Go back. Go to Activity Development
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Last updated 14 July 1998Copyright © Tom Mason 1997, 1998