Adjusting to a new culture

GLA Academy realizes the biggest adaption needed in a foreign culture is usually the language. The only real exception is where the languages are the same. But even if one has a decent command of the local tongue there are still other aspects of the culture that one has to adapt to. Any advice about being yourself isn’t really appropriate here; and just doing what the Romans do in Rome won’t work for every situation. If you interpret ‘being yourself’ to mean being sincere, you are getting something right; people tend to sense sincerity and insincerity. Doing what the Romans do will only work if you are part of the crowd. If you are in a position of authority (and many people do move to foreign cultures to take a job promotion) you will have to learn what is appropriate for your position; this is certainly more complex than just imitating others.

Some cultures emphasis the individual, others emphasis personal modesty and the interests of the group. It is difficult to adapt between these, and individuals can find that they overcompensate. Advice for these situations is never simple, but if you can build a good rapport with others you will find them more tolerant. It is usually a good idea to ask about any situation, but it is hard to know in advance when you need to ask about something. It is hard to know when to ask if we are unaware of our ignorance.

It is no coincidence that many high school language courses include culture as well as the actual language. As the two developed together over a great period of time they tend to be strongly linked. Some Asian languages have a hierarchy, where individuals of status are addressed and spoken to in a specific way. English speaking countries would expect a child to address an adult by a respectful tittle, but for the most part this is not as emphasised in the culture and is not as ingrained in the language. Visitors to English speaking countries may have trouble finding the appropriate form of address if it is not specified in the language itself.

Every individual in a culture is unique, but it still makes sense to talk of a culture as having patterns, habits and customs. Explaining the difference is difficult because we inevitable try to use the concept from our present culture, and the do not always correspond to the other culture. A foreign culture is a completely different system to what we are used to, and not a variation on our own system. This can be seen in the language, where there is not a simple correspondence between words. Nouns often have a corresponding word in a foreign language, but pronouns that are missing in Asian languages are a little tricky to grasp for new English speakers. The way one is expected to construct sentences is another difference. Languages and cultures are never a variation on some meta-norm standard; each is an evolving system that developed both independently and with the influence of other factors.

GLA Academy tests do realize that there is more to a new culture than just the new language. Part of the assessment is the practical application of the knowledge you have. Though the cultural knowledge and experience will be an ongoing learning process, the language skills should be the first step in acquiring them.

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