The term ‘communication’ bears various meanings depending on the context of application. This paper will explore this matter by defining communication in terms of how and why it matters. This goal will be achieved via evaluating a case to demonstrate how communication works in practice by relating the theory of culture shock and acculturation to race/ethnicity. Culture shock is a strange feeling or disorientation that an individual may encounter when exposed to an unfamiliar social environment. Acculturation is a social and psychological process that is steered by cultural change emerging from one’s exposure to new cultural practices (Lowinger et al. 147). In other words, acculturation is the cultural adjustment that wards off culture shock and leads to mastery of new cultures. While living in a foreign country, communication is fundamental in enabling the aforementioned processes, but it has not been easy for many international students studying in the United States. This experience will be explored to demonstrate the existing interlink between communication and culture shock.
For the purpose of this paper, communication is defined as the means of connecting individuals to new social settings, experiences, events, and places. Communication helps in the generation of connection between people through the exchange of written or verbal information. Communication may involve a well-known system of symbols, signs, or behaviour to a certain group, but it can be strange to other cultural groups (Xue 1492). However, through alleviating that diversity, the meaning of communication is identified as a two-way process of attaining mutual understanding irrespective of origin, culture, or language. The main way of creating this mutual understanding, particularly between two different cultures, is through acculturation. Communication is an essential tool for the transmission of grievances, ideas, opinions, or thoughts. Therefore, depending on the context and need, selecting proper means of communication contributes largely to the rate at which an individual integrates to foreign cultural values and practices.
The usual challenge in communication comes in when individuals experience an unfamiliar mode of life due to immigration, a shift of social settings, or transition to another type of life. In most cases, people are not prepared to face differences between their culture and the new environment. For example, when immigrating to a new country, an individual anticipates amazing experiences, fascinating destinations, and food among other aspects. However, such people fail to consider the primary issue of communication. Upon arrival to a foreign country, an individual may get interested in the new culture with the help of the natives. The connection between people starts to develop, but this stage is short lived since one has to engage with the wider society. In an attempt to negotiate one’s way into mainstream culture, an individual is trapped in culture shock. Culture shock arises when one finds problems with adjustment and mastery of basic communication skills. This aspect leads to frustration due to information overload, loneliness, dependence on nationals who share a common language, language barrier, and poor response ability (Brown and Holloway 34).
After a while, a few weeks or a month depending on the individual, cultural diversity starts to manifest. Differences between the two cultures become apparent, thus creating mixed reactions. Due to racial and ethnic differences that exist in the United States, new comers generate psychological impediments to acculturation, thus causing anxiety and frustration as real events unfold. In this respect, communication comes out as the only way out, but people find it difficult to overcome most of these unfavourable events due to communication barriers. Since communication is a gradual process, special attention should be paid to every person’s culture to avoid offending one’s cultural convictions. Due to racial prejudice and stereotypes, foreign students in the US encounter challenges that affect their lifestyles and nearly damage their identity. The situation worsens when an individual is living with his/her parents abroad. In this case, one experiences cultural conflict between home and school, thus making communication a complex phenomenon to figure out. While at home, one practices the old culture, but at school, one has to adapt to foreign language and practices. This conflict increases confusion that can only be eliminated through communication.
Despite the highs and lows of adapting to a new environment, adjustment has to be realised at some point depending on the individual. After tolerating offensive racial remarks, expressing oneself in poor English and loneliness, eventually one becomes accustomed to the foreign culture and routines (Lowinger et al. 447). The earlier mentioned mutual connection develops between two people of distinct cultures and the network spreads through communication. This connection might be facilitated through direct communication with the natives, computer-aided learning, or in the classroom setting. At this point, one knows what to expect, and thus s/he stops viewing racial diversity as an impediment to communication and development. One begins to accept and see opportunities in the new culture since the negative reactions towards it are eliminated gradually. Nonetheless, this scenario may not play out for everyone since different people have distinct needs and experiences. For example, some of the students from the minority groups in the US like the Chinese, Mexicans, and black Americans continue to report racial prejudice and others cannot withstand the embarrassment linked to their poor English. This aspect does not imply that communication has failed; on the contrary, it means that the connectivity amongst people, places, and events is weak.
After years of learning the new practices through acculturation facilitated by good communication, one is expected to master most of the aspects of the host culture. Good communication in this case does not mean fluency or mastery of say the English language. The essence of good communication is to ensure socio-emotional connection and understanding amongst people. In addition, mastery and sense of comfort with the new culture do not entail ultimate conversion because individuals retain most of the traits from their old culture like accents and eating habits (Ting-Toomey and Chung 62). Multiculturalism has opened the platform to enable immigrants to hold practices that they deem fundamental. Failure to defeat the influence of racial discrimination and prejudice is attributed to failure to connect successfully. Certain individuals find it hard to get accustomed to new culture and integration. They hinder communication by isolating themselves from other people and creating psychological hostility to any kind of integration (Trenholm 45). On the other hand, people who allow communication find ways to defeat all odds to cope with the new culture, whilst maintaining the values that they cherish about their own culture.
Studying abroad is a new experience and it poses new challenges for everyone. I am a Chinese student for a while now in the US and adjusting has not been easy since people have different values and practices. Even though things appear less strange, the connection is yet to develop successfully particularly with the native students. At initial stages of acculturation, the experiences were not very strange due to the support systems from the school therapists and the Chinese immigrants. However, after a while, dependence on other people created frustrations and I wanted to do it my way. I lost the connection since communication was minimal. This aspect was highly attributable to my broken English and difficulties in identifying new sources of support from the natives. Although I now acknowledge that my experiences are normal, it becomes difficult to handle the embarrassment that I feel when other students seem not to understand my poor English. From my experience, I still feel that some of the local students are doing little to help students from minority groups to find the needed confidence to establish mutual relations through communication.
Communication is the best way to understand human interactions and mutual relationships between distinct cultures. However, in some cases like the one which has been highlighted in this paper, cultural diversity can hinder the communication process. When individuals fail to connect with others, it becomes hard to counter culture shock. However, by learning the new culture, an individual can alleviate culture shock. This process of learning new practices and values is referred to as acculturation. Watching and learning by doing is simply communication. Therefore, communication, as a two-way process of achieving mutual understanding, has been identified as the best way for people to adjust to new cultures.
Brown, Lorraine, and Immy Holloway. “The Initial Stage of the International Sojourn: Excitement or Culture Shock.” British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 36.1 (2008): 33-49. Print.
Lowinger, Robert, Zhaomin He, Miranda Lin, and Mei Chang. “The Impact of Academic Self-Efficacy, Acculturation Difficulties, and Language Abilities on Procrastination Behaviour in Chinese International Students.” College Student Journal 48.1 (2014): 141-152. Print.
Ting-Toomey, Stella, and Leeva Chung. Understanding intercultural communication, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
Trenholm, Sarah. Thinking through Communication: An Introduction to the Study of Human Communication, Boston: Pearson Education, 2014. Print.
Xue, Jiao. “Cultivating Intercultural Communication Competence through Culture Teaching.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 4.7 (2014): 1490-1492. Print.