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Culture Shock Absorber

Tool Objectives: 

1. To develop greater awareness of multiple perspectives on intercultural encounters.

2. To recognize the various categories of automated thoughts and identify one’s own style of reacting to intercultural differences.

3. To moderate group openness to actively learning about culture-specific patterns of interpersonal interactions.

Tool Description: 

This tool is to be facilitated by the course professor as a group activity and preferably mid-way into the international experience. This highly participative activity focuses on facilitating an eight-step process in which students reflect on unpleasant or perplexing encounters with the host culture. In doing so, students begin to understand their reactions to complex intercultural experiences and to identify various styles or categories for describing immediate reactions to difference. Such group sharing and reflection can begin the process of collectively seeking to understand cultural differences and intercultural encounters.

Tool Procedures: 

1. Begin by asking students to think of an event that led to an unpleasant emotional reaction or perplexing encounter with the host culture. (This encounter does not necessarily have to involve host nationals.) Ask one or two students to describe an encounter to the larger group, but be prepared to share one of your own to get the discussion started. It is important to position this tool at the outset as a culture learning activity while maintaining a respectful and nonjudgmental posture toward the host culture.

2. Introduce the classification categories for automatic thoughts. Have students provide culture-specific examples of each (see Appendix 1).

3. Using the 3 pg. handout, give students approximately 10-15 minutes to work through the eight-step process. This can be done individually or in pairs. The course professor should facilitate a group debriefing of the eight steps with 2-3 examples (preferably using student experiences). Be open to expanding the discussion to include historical, social, political, anthropological themes and so forth.

4. Summarize the activity by emphasizing the need to reflect on intercultural encounters from multiple perspectives. Recommend that students refer to other sources for interpreting their experiences (e.g., host nationals, courses professor, and relevant literature). Not having an accurate interpretation and reflection on cultural experiences can lead to misunderstandings, the perpetuation of stereotypes and a failure to learn about the host culture.

Tool Evaluation: 

Evaluation not needed. The activity might also be used as a part of a larger, graded assignment in which students are asked to engage in a more rigorous, reflective cultural learning process. This could also be used as one component of a larger, course portfolio.

Tool Time Requirement: 

Approximately 1 hour (pre-departure).  Allow more time if optional assignment is made.

Tool Author(s): 

Adapted by A. Ogden, 2009. Original source unknown.

Tool Handouts [.doc or .docx]: 

Site copyright 2012, University of Kentucky, Education Abroad.
Toolkit Authors: Duarte Morais, Ph.D., Anthony C. Ogden, Ph.D., & Christine Buzinde, Ph.D.
More information about the toolkit authors.

Danland theme modification by Vaughan A. Fielder.