Intercultural Adaptation (+Video)

by Kari Parrott last modified Aug 03, 2013 09:14 PM

There are different models for the intercultural adaptation process. For instance, a traditional viewpoint has been to see the process as a U-curve (Lysgaard, 1955; also Chang, 1973; Oberg, 1960), where a migrant moves from initial excitement about the new place into a crisis, and then to adjustment. Later on some scholars expanded the U-curve into a W-curve, where they also took into account the re-entry shock and readjustment of a migrant who returns to her/his home country. Adaptation can be also seen as an ongoing process, where a migrant gradually adapts to the new environment. This is called a Stress-Adaptation-Growth model (Kim, 2001).

It is useful to know something about culture shock and intercultural adaptation before moving to live in a new country. Awareness of what one can expect always helps in the process, but it is also important to remember that there is no one right formula, since every experience is unique.

U-curve

The U-curve model for adjustment was first introduced by a Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard in 1955, and it has been developed by other scholars during the following decades (e.g. Oberg, 1960; Chang, 1973). According to this model, the adaptation process goes through four stages:

  • honeymoon period
  • crisis period
  • adjustment period
  • biculturalism period

W-curve

When migrants return to their home countries, they often have to go through a similar kind of adaptation process. Scholars refer to this with a W-curve model, where the second curve is meant to describe the re-entry shock and readjustment. This process is sometimes even more difficult, since people don't expect any culture shock when returning home. The re-entry shock can be described as a set of unmet expectations from both the migrant and the environment, which used to be familiar to him/her.

While one has been staying abroad, there may have been changes in the home country's political situation, technology, or popular culture, for instance. Friends and family are maybe not the same any more, and also the migrant is probably a different person after having spent some years in a different environment - even if people would expect him/her to be the same. After adapting to a new culture, it is actually natural to feel disintegration with home culture. It is all part of the process.

Video: Adaptation Curves and Examples

https://m3.jyu.fi/jyumv/ohjelmat/hum/viesti/en/ics/48

The Stress-Adaptation-Growth Process

Another perspective to intercultural adaptation is to see it as an ongoing learning process, where an individual moves gradually toward adjustment. The challenges met on the way are all important for the process and personal growth. Maybe the adaptation process never comes to an end, but rather changes its form and becomes easier, with more experience.

There are some different terms related to the adaptation process, and how culture is adopted by an individual. Enculturation refers to how culture is adopted at early age, through socialization and cultural learning. Deculturation happens when an individual loses some features from his/her own culture, through learning and adapting to a new environment. Acculturation is an active process where an individual acquires elements from a new culture (such as food habits or behavioural norms). Acculturation can be seen as a more cognitive process than enculturation.

Young Yun Kim (2001) sees the adaptation process as a spiral, where every new experience in the host culture adds to personal growth. Whenever an individual faces a situation where the old cultural patterns don't work, he/she will experience stress (at some level), deriving from the feeling of confusion. Negative stress often activates defensive responses, which means the individual may try to keep his/her old habits, and reject the new culture. However, with time and some effort, the individual will probably start to respond to the new environment by changing his/her behaviour, which then gradually leads to adaptation and growth.