If you move to another country to study, what challenges do you anticipate you will face when trying to integrate, rather than assimilate, with the host culture, and how will you manage those challenges?
Though the two terms are used by most people interchangeably, integrate and assimilate do not have the same meaning. Integrating with a host culture means respecting and embracing that host’s culture and values and at the same time not lose your right to retain your heritage and culture.
Assimilate on the other hand means embracing the host and giving up all associations and attachments you may have from the country you come from. Integrating into my host culture would then mean I retain my right to my cultural background/heritage but also embrace the culture of the host community. In my process of integration, I am bound to come across challenges. How easy or hard I would find it to integrate into the host culture in my country of study would be determined by the integration measures that country has put in place (Mariya Aleksynska, 2010).
In this paper, I will seek to explain the challenges I’m likely to face in intercultural communication while studying in a foreign country. I will show the factors that influence various patterns of communication that different cultures have. I will also show the relationship between these patterns of communication and the challenges I would most likely face in the host country during my study. The ways of combating these communication challenges will also be discussed.
Challenges of intercultural communication
Different patterns of thought
People from different cultures have different patterns of thoughts in respect to their values and beliefs as well as their norms and emotional attitudes. Part of our interpretation of a message and the reactions we give to that message is determined by our pre-understanding of that message. Our pre-understanding of a message is partly based on our values and beliefs, our emotional attitudes and our norms, all of which are shaped by our cultural background.
Values, beliefs, norms
A person’s attitudes and values unite their factual understanding with their desires, emotions and actions. It is true that values and attitudes can be different even among people from the same culture, but there is to some what the contribution of one’s cultural background to their values and attitudes (Butts, 2007). A culture’s values and attitudes is influenced by nature and climate, technology, resources, types of activities and behavior, ideologies and even population density among others. Ideological influences include religion which has a huge bearing on a people’s norms and values. In many cultures, religion determines a community’s view of family, child rearing, authorities, the opposite sex and work. These views have overtime become common in different societies who might not now necessarily identify religion as the basis for their approach.
Emotional actions and reactions
Integrated in the way we understand issues are factors relating to our emotional attitudes. These emotional attitudes are present in events where there is understanding or misunderstanding (David MATSUMOTO, 2005). A misunderstanding of a message, in turn brings negative emotional reactions. The actions that are taken will be based on these negative emotional reactions further complicating communication. If the magnitude of this misunderstanding is huge, then the consequences will be just as massive and in certain cases can lead to conflict (Lilli Engle, 2010). The conflict can result to varied consequences on the person trying to communicate. For a student trying to integrate into the host’s culture such a conflict can be damaging, especially if such misunderstanding by a person of the host culture becomes the general misunderstanding by the rest of the people in the host community towards the student or even other students from without that culture.
Different patterns of behavior
People from different cultures behave differently in their way of speaking as well as their way of carrying out different activities. Coming from a different cultural background, I might therefore find it challenging to integrate into the host’s culture as a result of the miscommunication that can result from my understanding or misunderstanding of the host’s way of speaking as well as their way of doing things.
Different ways of speaking
When I meet people from a different culture in the country I am studying in, all the differences between us have the potential to lead to misunderstanding (Arent, 2009).
When we speak, our speech is always accompanied by facial expressions, gestures, and other body movements. Whether we are aware of it or not, all these add to whatever message we are trying to put across in different ways. Great differences exist in how people with different cultural backgrounds use their bodies to communicate (ÖZÜORÇUN, 2013). Different cultures also have different times and places where certain emotions can be expressed. You may for instance find a culture that restricts showing strong feelings of happiness, grief and anger in public e.g. the Japanese culture. This is very different from Mediterranean cultures for example, who are permitted to show such strong feelings.
Different sound and writing
Different cultures have different systems of sound and writing. Each culture has its own unique prosody; that is characteristics of sound with a range of greater length than separate sounds. Prosody’s primary functions include
- Indicating social, regional and biological identity e.g. that the person speaking is a teenage boy from Morocco.
- Indicating the units in language that have similar meaning
- Indicating tone and rhythm
- Indicating attitudes and feelings
Expression of emotions by use of prosody is different for different cultures. We also interpret the emotions expressed in a voice differently based on our cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The challenge with prosodic patterns is that we rarely notice them (Wolff-Michael Roth, 2006). This means it is extremely easy to interpret a message wrongly more so when the communicator is oblivious to the audience mix of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Though writing systems are also different, differences in sound systems across different cultures are less obvious like when two languages pass different messages with words that are identical in writing.
Vocabulary and phraseology
All cultures have words and phrases used in everyday language. These words and phrases are a reflection of the needs, attitudes and values of that given culture that are strong and common, making it necessary that they be communication about (Diana Davletbaeva, 2013). For example, people living in a desert have a vocabulary in the language they use daily to describe the different sand types that exist in that desert. People living in areas where snow is common on the other hand would have words that describe different types of snow.
Each culture also has its own unique phrases and metaphors. An example of such phrases and metaphors is proverbs, which express what a particular culture sees as wisdom for living. These proverbs are a good indicator of a culture’s attitudes and values in a wide range of issues. For a student seeking to integrate into his/her host culture, these phrases and metaphors can serve as a guide to that culture’s perception of various life issues. The proverbs are however also used to justify an action or an opinion.
Different patterns of artifacts
Artifacts – artificial objects used as either aids in communication or communication media – like radio, pen, telephone etc can also play a part in the message that is passed across people of different cultures. Unique ways of using these communication aids are developed in different cultures (Thorne, 2003). They could for instance be a convention on how one is supposed to talk on the phone, speak on the radio, and write different letter types.
Different imprints in nature
Every culture uniquely makes its mark in nature. These include that culture’s dealings in agriculture, dealings with garbage, roads and even ruined or preserved (intact) habitations. There are cultures for instance, where beliefs exist about ruined habitations. These beliefs influence that culture’s dealings with such habitations. Being a student from another culture, I could face the challenge of understanding the prevailing attitudes and beliefs towards certain places and certain things.
Combating the challenges of intercultural communication
To avoid problems associated with intercultural communication, I would have to analyse the communication to find out why misunderstanding and conflict took place. I would, going forward, put in place preventive measures that would counter the factors upon which the problems arise. I would seek to:
- Be aware and have insight into differences between cultures and patterns of communication
The primary difficulty experience in intercultural communication is the existing differences between the cultural background of the sender of the message and that of the receiver (Zofi, 2012). I would therefore gather insightful information about the host culture in respect to the similarities and differences that exist between our cultures. Although my main focus would be the differences between our cultures, I would not ignore the similarities because they can serve as a foundation for solving my challenges in intercultural communication.
I would also seek insight into the characteristics of the host culture. Because I would be interacting with people of that culture on a daily basis, it would be far-sighted to have information on the characteristics that make that culture unique as well as different from mine.
- Have flexible attitudes towards differences in culture and patterns of communication
I would strive to have an open mind towards the host culture in addition to developing understanding and aspiration to adapt to the host cultural practices (Larry A. Samovar, 2009). I would also seek to know how communication patterns by people of the host culture relate with it their will and emotions because these two greatly influence the level of effectiveness in intercultural communication. As much as I would be trying to be integrated into the host culture, people of that culture would also be trying to communicate with me. I would therefore seek to understand the difficulty they also would be experiencing trying to communicate with me.
As a way of adapting to the host’s cultural patterns, I would identify a social identity common to me and the person I’m communicating with e.g. we could both be teachers, birdwatchers, etc. While the differences ethnic or national identity may be very many, identifying common social identities can go a long way in facilitating mutual empathy and adaptation.
As an intercultural communicator, impart communication skills to people in my realm of influence
Giving people skills and ability to live in cultures outside their own would be a great achievement for me as an intercultural communicator. It would give them a chance to develop empathy towards other cultures as well as exercise other patterns of communication (CASTLE SINICROPE, 2007). I would seek to train those in my circle of influence the patterns of communication from my culture even as I learn the communication patterns in the host culture. I would also try connect to the language to the cultural patterns to give those I’m training a deeper understanding of communication in my culture. I would explain to them the pre-understanding required in communication in the culture background I come from.
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