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Saturday, December 22, 2012


Today, more than ever, people are on the move to new countries, and new cultures. They may be motivated to move by political situations, economic conditions, employment, even retirement.

ACCULTURATION is a sociological concept that is defined as the modification of an existing culture, or an individual, as a result of contact with a different culture. It also encompasses the process of becoming assimilated to a new culture. While most of us have experienced some cultural adjustments in our lives (such as adapting to the very strange culture of the younger generation), the people most affected by acculturation are immigrants.

In 1978, Dr. John H. Schumann, of the Department of Applied Linguistics at UCLA, developed a model to explain the acquisition of a second language by immigrants who learned their new tongue in the social environment (rather than in the classroom). His model has been adopted and expanded to study the overall adaptation of immigrants to the culture of their new country. It is known around the world as “Schumann’s Theory of Acculturation.”

Schumann recognizes that there are a number of factors in an immigrant’s acculturation including their pattern of integration, the degree of difference from their original culture, the length of residence in their new country, and their own individual motivation, attitude, and ego. Especially critical is confronting a different language. But there seems to be another significant phenomenon that all immigrants experience - Culture Shock.

CULTURE SHOCK is the anxiety that an individual feels about entering into a new culture. Schumann’s theory states that there is a succession of four “stages” every immigrant goes through between arrival and assimilation. The stages are:

1. The EUPHORIC STAGE (usually lasting 3 to 6 months). Everything about the new culture will be pleasurable and fascinating. The immigrant will view his new country/culture as superior to that which he left. The new immigrant will diligently try to master the new language, and there will be great progress made.

2. The HOSTILE STAGE (generally lasting about 6 months, with variations). Immigrants find themselves becoming antagonistic toward their new host culture. Many will develop depression and even aggression. The individual will try to reconnect with their home culture by watching films, reading, and seeking out the foods of their home culture. Cultural differences will no longer be celebrated. Language study will stall or even decline as the immigrant decides that his own native language is sufficient for most situations. The Hostile Stage is an expression of the confusion of identity that overwhelms the person adjusting to a new culture.

3. The ACCEPTANCE STAGE. This occurs when an immigrant reaches a kind of cultural equilibrium. He accepts the differences between his original culture and that of his new county. Some of the most important symbols of the new country will be accepted by the immigrant and become part of everyday life.

4. The REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK STAGE. Statistics show that a large majority of immigrants will return to their home country either to visit or stay. This surprising stage refers to the fact that a returning person will eagerly share their experiences from the new culture with others in their home country. But they find that the people and country have changed during their absence, and the way the returnee is accepted has been affected. Often the return adjustment is too great to stay for long and many immigrants return to their new host culture again.

Interestingly, Schumann’s research indicates that these four stages of cultural adjustment cannot be avoided. The most an immigrant to hope for is to reduce the time involved with the process.

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