The somewhat different intercultural communication blog

Month: July 2016

City of Thorns – A book review

City of Thorns coverThis week I’d like to share a fabulous book with you, which I have just finished reading over the past few weeks: Ben Rawlence’s City of Thorns (published by Portobello Books Ltd 2016).

A glimpse into the lives of 9 individuals who fled violence in Somalia and sought refuge in Dadaab, Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp. Rawlence follows them over a period of several years and tells their stories: their daily struggles coping with poverty, hunger, disempowerment, insecurity; but also their joys, hopes and dreams. While for some residents of Dadaab the biggest hope is resettlement to a country like the United States, Canada or Australia, others simply want to be able to return back home some day, to a peaceful and stable Somalia.

“Everything spoke of transience. The inhabitants lived in their heads, in the future, elsewhere.”

In Dadaab, all of Rawlence’s protagonists have one thing in common: their lives are put on hold. “Life was only a process of waiting. […] Nothing had any permanence, there was no building anything, since both the people you loved or the people you hurt could soon be gone.”

This book is a must-read for everyone who ever wondered what life is like in a refugee camp. You’ll dive into a different reality, which exists at the fringes of our Western society. The topic of forced displacement and migration couldn’t be more relevant.

If you are still looking for an educational, captivating summer read, I can heartily recommend you this book…. And if you live in or around Geneva, give me a shout, and I am happy to lend it to you.


Culture Shock – Making sense of your experience in a foreign cultural environment

I just came back from spending 3 weeks in Bali, Indonesia. Bali is a hugely diverse island with a rich Hindu animist culture. Its landscape offers anything from stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and impressive volcanoes and waterfalls. Its culture is deeply rooted in Hindu beliefs, and Balinese people are very tolerant and welcoming to foreigners and people from different cultures.

While all of these are prerequisites for a perfect holiday destination – and don’t get me wrong, I had a fabulous time there – I did find myself exhausted at some point halfway through my vacation. Exhausted from trying to decipher the unfamiliar ways Balinese people behave, interact and communicate. I felt lost, unable to orient myself in an unfamiliar social and cultural environment. All I wanted for breakfast was my beloved coffee and croissant instead of Nasi Goreng. Then suddenly it hit me: I am experiencing culture shock!

Have you ever felt disoriented, lost, even irritated when you were on holiday, or living, studying or working abroad? If so, the culture shock model will help you understand why, and make sense of your experience.

What is culture shock?

The Oxford dictionary defines culture shock as disorientation experienced when suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture or way of life. The term culture shock was first coined by anthropologist Kalervo Oberg in 1960. To this date, it remains one of the most powerful and practical concepts to explain behavioral reactions that occur when people attempt to live, work, or study in unfamiliar cultural contexts. Here is how it works:

When you expose yourself to a foreign culture, you go through 4 phases.

1 – Honeymoon: You will feel excited, fascinated and stimulated by the newness of everything: new food, different pace of life, people’s habits. The differences are intriguing; you see the new culture in an almost romantic light. However, as with most honeymoon periods, it doesn’t last.

2 – Distress or Crisis: After a while, the differences between your own and the new culture will become more apparent and start to wear you down. The initial excitement gives way to feelings of frustration, maybe even anxiety or hostility. Language is often a major barrier, which can make it difficult to manage common day-to-day activities, such as shopping or transportation. You might feel homesick, longing for familiar food and surroundings.

3 – Recovery or Adjustment: Slowly but surely you will get used to the new culture and develop abilities to cope with and adjust to the differences. The culture begins to make sense to you, and you start appreciating where you are. The fog is being lifted.

4 – Adaptation or Feeling at Home: From here on, you’ll really start to adapt to the new culture, embrace its differences and accept what it has to offer. You’ll feel confident and comfortable, and are fully able to participate in the new cultural context, even making friends, building social relationships.

Moving through the stages of culture shock is completely normal and can be a great personal learning experience. It’ll make you more aware of aspects of your own culture and broadens your horizon. If you understand the phases of cultural adjustment, it can help you cope with stress and negative emotions when you are travelling, working or living in an unfamiliar culture.

Has this been helpful? Have you recently experienced culture shock yourself?



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