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AmongCultures[pages275-279]

AmongCultures[pages275-279]

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Published by Evan Stanley

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Published by: Evan Stanley on Nov 10, 2010
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the hero's journey:osland's model of working abroadThis model comes from the meeting of Joseph Campbell's work on mythic heroesand Joyce Osland's own dissatisfaction with the literature she read about the expa-triate experience.
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Osland felt that her experience as an expatriate (anyone living ina different country from the one in which they were raised) and the experiences of many others that had been shared with her were not well described in the academicwritings about these cultural transitions, so she decided to develop her own modelof them. Based on numerous interviews and observations, she found many similari-ties between the expatriate acculturation experience and Campbell's work onmythic heroes. She describes a six-part journey:
the call to adventure, the belly othe whale, the magical friend, the road of trials, the ultimate boon,
and
the return.
Her model is one that can happen, but it is not meant to be a description of whatwill happen for everyone. People may opt out of the hero's journey anywhere alongthe path.
Call to Adventure
The call to adventure is the opportunity to go abroad and experience a new way of living in a new world. Most of these expatriates are seen as eager to go abroad. Itis something they have always wanted to do or seen as a great career opportunity.Often the decision to accept the call is immediate and, even if it has to be weighedout very carefully, it is still an experience to be seized and lived to the fullest.Osland does note that some may accept the call to go abroad without accepting thecall to adventure, and for these people the hero's journey does not really apply, asthey often insulate themselves from exposure to the new culture and return homewithout really experiencing an adventure.
 In the Belly of the Whale
Entering the belly of the whale refers to one entering into an unknown culture. It islike crossing a threshold from one's past life into a totally different life. Often,crossing this threshold is made difficult by factors that seem to be guarding thethreshold into the new life. These guardians include such things as culturally inap-propriate constraints put on the expatriates by headquarters, a deep distrust of the
 
hero as a stranger by the members of the new culture, a lack of language ability,and an expatriate community that severely restricts interaction with members of thehost community, such as a "golden ghetto" (a place heavily populated by Ameri-cans or other expatriates that tends to be economically very well off). If the expa-triate is not careful or is willing to succumb to these guardians, she or he will notbe able to finish the hero's journey. Stepping into the unknown is challenging, and just because one is cast in the role of hero, it does not mean that things will gosmoothly or that the person will handle everything competently.
The first day we got to Japan, well, first of all they lost our bags, which wastypical. But I told my wife, who was staying at a hotel in Tokyo, "Take the trainout to the bus and get on the bus and our stop is like the ninth stop and thehouse is right there," because I had bought the house and she had never seenit. So she got to the train station, had enough money to get onto the train. Shegot off the train at the right place and went down to get the bus. She got to thebus, went to get on the bus and then ran out of money, change. So she went into a Pa-chinko parlor [where a game is played with steel balls and asked forchange and they pointed to a machine and she put a thousand yen into a ma-chine, and got a big plastic bucket of Pachinko balls. And she thought that they were tokens for the bus... We kept it [bucket of balls] with the thought inmind that anytime you felt stupid about something you did—just drag those ba-bies out.*
The Magical Friend 
Regardless of the mistakes one may make and challenges that one may face in thisnew land, one seems to eventually find a magical friend or a cultural mentor. Thismentor may be found through information-seeking efforts on the hero's part or by arecognition of the hero's need by someone else who has traveled a similar path inthe past. The mentor is often a member of the new culture, but can also be anotherwell-seasoned expatriate. These mentors serve as guides during the hero's initial journeys, helping with language concerns, living accommodations, social contacts,and advice for greater work effectiveness. During this stage it is helpful for thehero to remember to never complain about the other culture, regardless of what theother person says. Complaints have a way of slowing down the process of findingthese mentors, especially among members of the new culture itself.
 
 Road of Trials (Paradoxes)
Even with a magical friend to serve as mentor, the hero must eventually go downhis or her own road of trials. These trials take the form of various paradoxes that,to truly deal with them, must be experienced, although mentors can help duringthis process. Paradoxes are the seemingly contradictory but equally true ideas thatemerge as one tries to mediate between two cultures. Osland discusses many dif-ferent paradoxes that the hero may face. I will briefly review five of these.
1. Seeing as valid the general stereotype about the local culture, but also real-izing that many host-country nationals do not fit that stereotype.
Experiencing an-other culture encourages one to see how certain communal tendencies createstereotypes that can help a person understand and deal with members of the newculture. However, at the same time that one gains this better understanding of thegeneral culture, one discovers more and more individuals who do not really fit thestereotype, forcing one to be aware of individuals, rather than just cultural mem-bership.
2. Feeling at ease anywhere, but belonging nowhere.
The hero's journey mayhelp develop a person's ability to feel at home in a variety of places and situations,yet the person still might not fit in. For example, I know a person who lived foralmost twenty years in Japan and, although he was well acculturated, he was neverreally accepted as Japanese. A certain feeling of marginality often exists even uponreturning home, as the hero and his community have both changed during the jour-ney.
3. Feeling caught between the contradictory demands of headquarters on onehand and the demands of the host-country nationals and the local situation on theother.
A person who is abroad on an organizational assignment will often find thattheir home organization wants things done within a certain time period or informa-tion sought in a certain way, yet this timing or method of garnering informationmay be virtually impossible within the cultural context in which the person isworking. The person must act as a translator for both groups, trying to convey thepoint of view of the home office to those in the new culture without losing theirtrust and explaining what can effectively be done in the new culture to the home

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