4.3.3 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.


© Maria El Said, 2006


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