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Int. J.



Rel., Vol. IS, No. 3, pp. 293-328, 1994

Copyright 0 I994 Elsevier Science Ltd
Printed in the USA. All rights reserved
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h4ontreal, Quebec
ABSTRACT. The dominant picture of cross-cultural adaptation still, with some
exceptions, features a reified process of recovering from culture shock or culturerelated stress. The purpose of this article is to put cross-cultural adaptation back
into perspective, reconnecting it with its roots in sociopsychological adjustment
theory. Cross-cultural adaptation represents in essence a common process of
environmental adaptation. Far from being culture spectfic, Pulture shock is
simply a frustration reaction syndrome. A model of cross-cultural adaptation
based on sociopsychological adjustment theory and applied to the findings of
decades of cross-cultural investigations is presented. It holds that all adjustment
is a cyclical and recursive process of overcoming obstacles and solving problems
in present-environment
transactions. It is the individual who chooses how to
respond, and in so doing creates his or her own adjustment. Cultural adaptation
is a continuum. Sojourners exhibit a broad range of degrees, modes, and levels
of adaptation. Adaptation is also more than the sum of the subadjustments that
compose it. Working ones way into a culture can produce fundamental changes
in the sojourner commensurate with a process of resocialization. When, in the
adaptation process, socialization is extensive or adjustments are particularly dtfficult, sojourners can be Yeborn by the experience.


The cross-cultural literature encompasses four broad families of models describing the process of adapting to another culture, although the
distinctions between them are often more a question of emphasis than of
substance. The first group, by far the most dominant, features what we
call the recuperation model. With culture shock as its pivot point, the
model holds recovery from the shock to be the mechanism for accommodation to life in strange new lands. Using the famous U-shaped curve
(Lysgaard, 1955), this view posits an initial high occurring at cultural

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E. Anderson,

11 Salisbury




L. E. Anderson

entry; followed by a bottoming out resulting from cultural confrontation; and, finally, a climb up and out to cultural acceptance and adaptation.
As originally defined by the anthropologists
Kalervo Oberg and
George Foster in the late 195Os, culture shock was a medical condition
describing feelings of disorientation following entry into a new culture,
feelings often so strong as to degenerate into physical symptoms. In this
view, culture shock is usually portrayed as an affliction that descends on
the individual almost as an occupational illness, and with the impact of
a falling piano.
A modern variant of the culture-shock recuperation model has recovery following not upon a disease or malaise producing mental or physical
disintegration but on a crisis of personality or identity (e.g., Adler, 1975;
Bennett, 1977; Garza-Guerrero,
1974; Harris & Moran, 1979; Pearson,
1964; Weinmann, 1983). Psychological-crisis conceptualizations tend to
view identity crises as the more or less natural outcome of contact with
an alien culture. Upon contact, all the familiar underpinnings of ones
sense of self are said to be torn away, depriving persons of most of the
familiar reference points that provide the cues for their behavior as well
as the substrate for their sense of identity (cf. Lewis & Jungman, 1986;
Pearson, 1964). The points of passage through to full recovery are stages
in the working out of new identities incorporating both the old and the
new selves.
Perhaps the best proponent of this view is Adler (1975, 1987), who
construed the cultural-adaptation
process explicitly as a powerful developmental experience. To Adler, the culture crisis provides the impetus
necessary to open the way to personality development and personal
growth. The change that the cross-cultural experience produces in the
adjusters consciousness shakes up the individuals preconceptions, may
even lead to disintegration of his or her personality, but the disintegration is necessary to allow a better, more integrated and transcultural
self to be constructed out of the ashes of the old.
A second group of investigators views cross-cultural adaptation essentially as a learning process (e.g., Byrnes, 1965; Ezekiel, 1968; Guthrie,
1975; Lee, 1979). Sojourners adrift in a sea of perceptual and behavioral
anomalies and difference are in a state of ignorance. To adapt, they must
learn the parameters of the new sociocultural system and acquire the
sociocultural skills necessary for participating in it. Rather than following a U-curve as in the previous formulations, adaptation here is plotted
as the classic ascending slope of the learning curve.
Two somewhat different courses of culture learning are postulated
that correspond to two different slants on the mechanism of cultural
accommodation. The first school of thought, primarily encompassing
communication theorists (cf. Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Gardner, 1952;

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


Hammer, Gudykunst, 8~ Wiseman, 1978; Nishida, 1985; Ruben, 1976;

Ruben & Kealey, 1979), holds that because communication governs individuals ability to interact effectively in all life situations, intercultural
communication is the core of cultural adaptation. Cultural adaptation is
therefore a process of learning the communication skills necessary for
effective social interaction in order to overcome the verbal and nonverbal
communication failures that are inevitable in a strange land (Furnham &
Bochner, 1986).
The other school of thought holds that successful adaptation lies in
implementing appropriate social behaviors but distinguishes itself from
the communication view by its emphasis on the behavior learning itself.
To behaviorally oriented investigators (e.g., David, 1976; Guthrie, 1975;
Mischel, 1973; Pedersen, 1983; Triandis, 1980; Wallace & Atkins, 1961),
cultural adaptation is construed as a recursive process of operant conditioning. In social-learning theory, certain behaviors are observed to prevent punishing events and some to lead to reinforcing events. Not
only must appropriate social behaviors (those the society reinforces) be
by observation and imitation- but so must the reinforcement contingencies governing these behaviors, that is, the system of
rewards and punishments specifically associated with the new behaviors.
In short, to adapt to a culture, sojourners must learn both perceptual
rules -the rules for interpreting their environment-and
rules-the rules for comporting themselves within it.
A third family of models, equally linear, straddles the dividing line
between cultural adaptation as a process of recovery and of learning. In
use both for short-term sojourners and long-term immigrants (Gordon,
1971; Katcher, 1971), these journey conceptualizations view the process as a step-by-step psychological journey from the fringes to the center
of a foreign culture, from a state of denial or ignorance to a state of
understanding and empathy (e.g., Bennett, 1986; Gochenour & Janeway,
1977; Jacobson, 1963; Stewart, 1977).
The most interesting of these models is perhaps M. J. Bennetts (1986),
which is based on the principle of psychological dissonance. The journey
is symbolized by the progression in cognitive sensitivity that occurs
with increasing exposure to a culture, the various stages in sensitivity
representing evolving ways in which sojourners respond to cultural differences. From what Bennett called the ethnocentric early days of
adaptation, where such differences are denied outright, sojourners consciousness evolves to full ethnorelativism, where points of difference
observed in the new culture are integrated into their own world view.
Although the U-curve and staged hypotheses still dominate descriptions of the cultural adaptation process, a few investigators have proposed a homeostatic mechanism (cf. Barna, 1976; Gudykunst & Hammer, 1987; Spradley & Phillips, 1972; Wong-Rieger, 1984). These


L. E. Anderson

equilibrium models, the fourth and last family of models for consideration here, implicitly construe cross-cultural adaptation as a dynamic
and cyclical process of tension reduction. The basic premise is mechanical - that systems (including sojourners) operate in steady-state mode
until dynamic events, upheavals, or disruptions push them out of equilibrium. In homeostatic terms, cross-cultural adaptation is a process of
reducing the internal imbalance-variously
labeled tension/drive/need/
is unleashed by confrontation with the foreign culture,
after which the sojourner is free to subside into normal operating mode.
The most fully developed homeostatic model expands on the physiological formulation by using explicitly cognitive principles for its basis
(cf. Grove & Torbiorn, 1985; Torbiorn, 1982). The process of crosscultural adaptation is viewed in terms of the changing relationships between an individuals (perceptual) frame of reference, his or her behavior, and the ambient environment, these relationships all being evaluated
by the individuals personal criterion of adequacy. Changes in these tripartite relationships, as perceived by the adjuster, govern progression
through the (four) stages of Torbiorns subjective adjustment cycle;
the engine is the individuals level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with
his or her evolving adjustments. Attainment and nonattainment of the
aspired-to level of functioning are construed as balance and imbalance,
whereas a state of internal balance is viewed as inherently satisfying and
imbalance inherently dissatisfying.
Although each of the groups of models just described holds a piece of
the puzzle, individually none is fully satisfactory to account for the
process of cross-cultural adaptation. Homeostatic models are reductionist and tend to be one dimensional: The individual appears to adapt
more to internal tension or dissonance than to the external environment.
Models of animal arousal or drive (viz., Spradley & Phillips, 1972) can
perhaps be applicable to humans at the basic-needs level but make little
reference to coping strategies or indeed to any cognitive activity at all.
The Torbiorn model translates physiological tension reduction into thL
cognitive concepts of satisfaction-dissatisfaction
(at adjustive adequacy), but beyond this criterion, little of a cognitive nature appears to
be in operation at all, notwithstanding the primordial role that cognitive
factors play in human adjustments. Cognitive factors appraise events as
threatening, positive, exciting, or benign (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman,
1984), in short, as events to be adjusted to or sailed through. The same
object or event can be a dreaded threat to one individual and a ripe
challenge to another.
A second shortcoming of the model is that the higher level activities
human beings are involved in-learning,
fulfillment, growth, and development -cannot
be explained solely by homeostatic processes (cf.
White, 1974, p. 53). Human beings do not only function to reduce stress

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


and imbalance. Many actively seek out tension and are revitalized by
The learning-curve models do not tell the full story either. Undeniably,
a difficulty facing sojourners physically or psychologically far from
home may be an inability to read and respond appropriately to the events
swirling around them. Their first task is indeed to learn the parameters
of the new environment, its appropriate social behaviors, communication skills, and reinforcement contingencies. But adapting involves more
than making the unfamiliar familiar: It means accepting the unfamiliar,
accepting the uprooting and alien values, and the loss of loved objects
and people, a much harder task.
The journey depictions of cross-cultural adaptation afford many interesting insights into the cognitive-perceptual processes underlying cultural
adjustments, but they remain purely descriptive systems. As such, they
reveal little about the form or dynamics of the adaptation process in all
its multiple dimensions.
The recuperation models, finally, present particular problems. Notwithstanding (or perhaps because of), its primacy in contemporary treatments of cross-cultural experience, the term culture shock, is vague,
overgeneralized, and not even specific to culture as we normally understand the term. It has been applied to an extensive range of situations, to
everything from marriage to desegregated schooling to corporate reshuffles (cf. Main, 1984), with a remarkable variety of situations in-between.
Even in cross-cultural studies, it has become little more than a catch-all
phrase encompassing a host of different reactions to a host of different
problems (Chang, 1985). Applying the epithet, culture shock to all these
situations is misleading (cf. Furnham & Bochner, 1986), because it masks
real differences in the magnitude and cause of the disorientation and
emotions in evidence. In most of the situations cited, the common denominators have much less to do with culture than with radical environmental change coupled with unfamiliarity. Culture shock should more
properly be labeled change shock, if shock it is to be. Change anywhere
demands accommodations.
The depiction of cultural adaptation as hinging on a crisis or shock,
and involving progressive stages in the overcoming of the crisis or shock,
does not always accord with the facts either. Some investigators find no
culture shock or crisis reported at all (cf. Byrnes, 1965; Lundstedt, 1963)
or reported only a feeling of general irritation (Torbiorn, 1982, p.
170). The universal validity of the curve approach itself is dubious. It has
long been known that some people never adapt; some slide inexorably
into chronic alienation (Campbell & Yarrow, 1958); others adapt in a
slow and steady linear pattern, without discontinuities (cf. Kim, 1978;
Klineberg & Hull, 1979; Selltiz, Christ, Havel, & Cook, 1963). We still
do not know why this is so.


L. E. Anderson

One reason for this ignorance may be the pragmatic approach that has
generally been taken in the literature, largely American, to the study of
cross-cultural phenomena. This may reflect what has been termed the
American problem-solving approach to life (Stewart, 1972, p. 35), an
approach epitomized in the belief that the basic problems of the world
are technological and amenable to fixing (Abe & Wiseman, 1983; Mestenhauser, 1983; Stewart, 1977). Among sojourners, this attitude translates, for instance, into Peace Corps volunteers apparent expectations
(cf. Harrison & Hopkins, 1967, p. 1) that their preliminary training
would prepare them for the total life they would be living overseas
(with consequent disappointment that it did not).
Among researchers, the pragmatic approach translates into a strong
spotlight on cross-cultural training programs, methods and procedures,
and the design of educational exchanges. Attempts to solve the problems of cultural adaptation appear to have generally sidetracked or superceded efforts to understand the problem itself. What scant research
has been done on the mechanisms of the cultural adaptation process still
tends to look at adaptation globally, as an input-output sequence, either
symptomatically, concentrating on overt behavioral and emotional signs
of distress (e.g., Harris, 1973; Hill, 1983; Latourette, 1966; Maslund,
1957; Thomson & English, 1964), or diagnostically, in terms of its etiology/causative factors (e.g., Parker & McEvoy, 1993; Weaver, 1993).
Another unfortunate characteristic of the published cross-cultural literature is the deep cleavage existing between research disciplines looking
into cross-cultural adaptation. Although a natural enough phenomenon
in an emerging field of study, cross-cultural investigators have nonetheless analyzed their data in the light of their own professional interests,
generally limiting themselves in addition to consideration of a particular
type of subject group-exchange
students, Peace Corps volunteers, business people, missionaries, and so forth. Different models lead to different definitions of adaptation, which lead to different findings, still giving
rise to a broad noncomparability in results- the disparate chorus of
findings, interests, and approaches in the area of cross-cultural studies
that a Peace Corps researcher complained of over a quarter of a century
ago (Arnold, 1967).
The cleavage between the separate disciplines interested in cultural
adaptation has had a more deleterious effect: It has deprived the crossroads field of the vitalizing effects of cross-fertilization. The divisions
between cross-cultural research disciplines in the largely American literature not only appear to be hermetic but are also isolated from the broad
stream of psychological adjustment literature.
Most present-day cross-cultural literature, being alternatively pessimistic and inspirational in tone, has reified the construct of cultural
adaptation. The predominant conception still tends to carry the specter

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


of culture shock (or an identity crisis) at its core, and it still reflects the
view of cultural adaptation as an achievement (often a heroic one). The
most that can usually be said about the intercultural experience is that it
can be illuminating and has the potential to be character building. Coming across in some treatments even as a contemporary form of medieval
ordeal, out of which the sojourner might hope to emerge unbowed but
not unbloody, it has been taken far beyond the construct used, for
instance, by Americas Northern neighbors (cf. Berry, Kim, & Boski,
1987; Hawes & Kealey, 1979), whose object of study is overseas effectiveness or success. Save for a few notable exceptions (cf. Bennett,
1977; Taft, 1987; Torbiorn, 1982), adapting has been forced out of the
domain of the multitudinous life adjustments we make back home (e.g.,
to hospital or army routine, a new spouse or a new job) and has been
elevated into the realm of monumental challenges.
It is time to break down the walls between disciplines exploring cultural adaptation and to span the gulf that has separated cross-cultural
adaptation from the broad body of general adjustment studies. To the
individual faced with the job of getting along in a new environment, any
cross-cultural trials that do occur would be more understandable, even
perhaps more tolerable, if they could be viewed in the light of previous
life experiences (Bennett, 1977).
Being alive at home or abroad means having to cope with disruptive
events, adjustive crises, such as at midlife, on the death of a child, or on
entering a strange social group. It means being separated from the old,
the known, and/or the familiar (Taft, 1987, p. 151). In its essence,
cross-cultural adaptation is a commonplace process of learning to live
with change and difference-in
this instance, a changed environment
and different people, different norms, different standards, and different
customs. The essence of adaptive behavior is the recognition and appreciation of new contingencies (Mischel, 1973, p. 270). Intelligent behavior is defined from what living organisms do when confronted by
these contingencies or from what they learn therefrom (Munn, 1955, p.
82). Protozoa have to and do adjust to changes in their environment.
Protozoa are no more subject to this imperative than humans.
Cultural adaptation is a subcategory of what one cross-cultural writer
(Bennett, 1977) called transition experiences, defined as responses to
the significant changes in life circumstances that generate the tensions
and anxieties we face whenever change threatens the stability of our
lives (p. 45). Culture shock is more properly termed (cultural) adjustment stress (Weaver, 1993). As one trainer recently suggested, the expression being effective abroad is more appropriate, even necessary, in
order to replace the survival connotations of the prevailing cross-cultural
construct (McCaffery, 1986, p. 163).
In this fast-approaching end of the 20th century in which change is


L. E. Anderson

massive, perpetual, obligatory

(cf. Pearce & Kang, 1987, p. 38), we are
all of us to some degree immigrants
in this strange new world: A sort of
future shock threatens to be our permanent



To understand
the facts and phenomenology
of adapting to unfamiliar
we have to go beyond the confines of cross-cultural
studies. The first item of business in this connection
is to clarify the distinction between the terms adjustment and adaptation. In their classic work
on sociopsychological
Shaffer and Shoben (1956, p. 56)
defined adjustment as referring to the reduction or satisfaction
of (shortterm) drives, whereas adaptation is that which is valuable for (long-term)
or racial survival. Adaptations
may be maladjustive
in the
short term whereas adjustments
may be maladaptive
in the long, but
both terms refer to the achievement
of a fit between the person and the
although the objectives and time frames differ.
What do we know about how people react and adjust to massive
change or radical difference? Why does adjustment
work in some cases
and not in others? The extensive findings from the fields of bereavement,
and critical life-event studies (cf. Ascher, 1981; Bowlby, 1961;
Hogan, 1983; Litwach & Foster, 1981) have underscored
the essential
kinship between these areas of investigation
and that of cross-cultural
is a useful phenomenon
in studying the adaptation
process because it is one of the most general and best described of all
examples of the general principle of how we adjust to disruptive change
(Marris, 1975, p. 23). A grief reaction has often been found to be a
of the process of adapting to a strange culture. Bereavement
is especially revealing about how we cope with the
loss of the familiar-our
family, support group(s), roles, language, values, and all the rest of our culture in which our individual
identities are
(Briggs, 1983; Hall, 1976; Harris & Moran,
1979). Indeed
mourning is a little-known
aspect of migration:
The uprooted immigrant
grieves for the loss of a whole homeland (Cohen-Emerique,
1988; GarzaGuerrero,
Beyond phenomena
of loss and grieving, at a more general level, major life events such as release from prison, a mental institution,
or the
throes of alcoholism,
starting college, retirement,
becoming literate, or
home after war all involve disruptive
(Minkler &
Biller, 1979) and are always stressful. All have as much potential
for leading to destabilizing
Studies of the individual
to a serious illness or even of a
stranger dropped into the ingroup chatter of a neighborhood
party could give us pointers about what adjusting to life in an unfamiliar


Cross-Cultural Adaptation

culture might be. Some individuals never adapt to the demands of a

foreign culture or to major disruptive situations in their home culture.
Many cross-cultural writers (e.g., Bennett, 1977; Coffman 8~ Harris,
1980; Selby & Woods, 1966) have remarked on the striking resemblance
the culture shock syndrome bears to the distress reactions humans
exhibit whenever confronted with major disruptive changes. The symptoms are similar as well-irritability,
depression, lowered self-esteem, to
name a few. All such phenomena as migration and uprooting, the loss of
home or loved ones, sojourns in strange lands can be viewed more simply
as particular instances of a general set of potentially stressful, sometimes
critical, events all beings undergo in the course of their lives.
In contending that intercultural adaptation is conceptually identical to
its intracultural version, the author does not wish to imply that it is
necessarily no more difficult. Individual adjustments to a new culture, as
to a new work routine, an earth tremor, or the loss of a loved one can be
cataclysmic, a minor disruption, or so routine as to go unnoticed. In all
cases, what is involved is a normal and temporary phylogenetic response
to the stresses elicited by events or changes in circumstances (cf. Barna
1976; Lundstedt, 1963; Ryan & Trimble, 1978; Stewart, 1977).
Real-life adjustments involve working toward a fit between person and
environment, regardless of how that fit is achieved (Berry et al., 1987;
French, Rodgers, & Cobb, 1974). It is a two-way interactive process.
Individuals both give to and take from their environments: Environments make demands but also can be used to satisfy individuals needs
(Lazarus, 1976, p. 47).
Adjustment from an adjusters standpoint means responding to the
demands our environment is constantly making on us. Viewed from
another angle, such demands can be construed as obstacles that present
themselves in our paths. In the cross-cultural arena, environmental or
situational demands could assail our values and beliefs, our interpersonal
relationships or skills, or even our own physical appearance, for example, as a member of a visible minority (Coe, 1972, p. 11).
A classic text in the field of social psychology, referred to earlier,
defines the psychological study of the adjustment process in these terms
(Shaffer & Shoben, 1956, p. 9):
It can be described as a series of steps, beginning when a need is felt and ending
when that need is satisfied. . . . The principal steps of a normal adjustment
process are therefore the existence of a motive (l), the operation of some thwarting (2) that prevents its immediate satisfaction, giving rise to varied responses
(3), and leading eventually to a solution (4). Point (5) is reached when satisfaction
is achieved; point (6) when the need remains unsatisfied.
Figure 1 is a diagram of the psychological
directly from this text.
The model is based on long-established




drive theory.


L. E. Anderson




FIGURE 1. The adjustment


crux is the presence of a thwarting condition (the obstacle). Adjustment

is the generation of response(s) to neutralize the obstacle. Drive or motivation is needed to move an individual toward a goal. It is experiences
of instability or imbalance that provide the necessary impetus spurring
organisms to action.
Not everyone wishes to adjust to everything in his or her environment.
Without impetus, without a reason to move, no movement (and no
adjustment) will occur. Motives not only instigate behavior, they also
direct it (Coe, 1972, p. 39). A sated but thirsty rat will race not to the
cheese but to the water dish. If a goal is not perceived as a goal and an
obstacle as an obstacle, no purposeful (goal-directed) movement and no
obstacle-related (coping) behavior will occur.
For the newly arrived and inexperienced sojourner, virtually everything in the environment that can be seen, smelled, heard, touched, and
tasted can constitute an obstacle around, through, under, or over which
a way must be found. Hurdles do not only come from outside. The
sojourners own internal states, a condition of paralyzing homesickness,
for instance, could also constitute an obstacle to be overcome before the
sojourner can do anything at all.
The term obstacle here is clearly used generically and could be applied
to a steeplechase course or any figurative hurdle-a psychological dissatisfier to be reduced or an absent satisfier to be attained (cf. McGuire &
McDermott, 1987; Stewart, 1977), a state of internal disequilibrium/
tension propelling an organism to restore balance (cf. Torbiorn, 1982),
and any other internal or external stressors that make demands that tax
or exceed the adjustive resources of the individual (Lazarus, 1976, p. 47).
The model presented here is a cognitive one: It allows for contributions from the individuals thought processes. Sojourners do not proceed
through adjustment stages like hungry rats through a maze on the trail
of the cheese. It is sojourners perception of events in the environment

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


(and their appraisals of their defences against them) that drive their
behavior. Because situations only have psychological significance to the
individual as he or she appraises them, it is these appraisals that mediate
the ensuing behavior (Lazarus, Averill, & Opton, 1974, p. 260). Individuals perceptions determine both what must be adjusted to and how
adjustment should proceed. A foreign language is no barrier at all to the
individual who speaks it.
Thwarting, or the delaying of an ongoing course of action (Lazarus,
1976, p. 49), can lead to frustration. Frustration can be triggered where
coping resources are overstretched, particularly where the individual is
repeatedly unable to satisfy a basic need to understand, control, or predict behavior (Furnham, 1987, p. 46), such as is typical of the early days
of a foreign sojourn. If the thwarting persists and no adequate way out
is found, the whole gamut of classic frustration reactions can ensue,
from anger, withdrawal, depression, regression to primitive behavior, all
the way to exhaustion, numbness, and stupor.
These reactions are indistinguishable from symptoms in conventional
descriptions of culture shock. The culture shock syndrome, where it does
occur, is simply a complex of accumulating psychological frustration
reactions, distressing without a doubt, but no stranger to the more common run of lifes adjustments. In the cross-cultural experience, frustrations may build up one upon the other until they overwhelm the individual, until he or she cracks. It is this breakdown that is commonly
labeled culture shock.
In all situations of similar ambiguity, confusion and a sense of impotence in our surroundings, all species-from
pigeons through cats, dogs,
rats, monkeys, and all ages and kinds of humans-respond
with frustration if the thwarting is acute and eventually with numbness or shock if it
is chronic. When environments become unfathomable, even rats or pigeons can be considered to suffer from a kind of culture shock.
There are six general principles applying to cross-cultural adaptation
that flow from the proposed model:

it involves adjustments;
it implies learning;
it implies a stranger-host relationship;
it is cyclical, continuous, interactive;
it is relative; and
it implies personal development.

Principle I: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Involves Adjustments

The social skills model of cross-cultural accommodation (Furnham
& Bochner, 1986) holds that sojourners are not expected to adjust themselves to a new culture. Instead, they learn selected aspects for instru-


L. E. Anderson

mental reasons (cf. Furnham,

1987, p. 52). Much of the cross-cultural
(cf. Guthrie,
1975) exhibits a similar tendency to
abjure the idea of adjustment
and to equate adapting to a culture with
learning it. Once the culture has been learned, the sojourner is supposed
to have accommodated
to it.
As we have seen, the truth lies elsewhere. The essential ingredients
the adjustment
process are a motive, goal-directed
and an
obstacle or thwarting.
It occurs in response to a new work procedure,
new language or monetary system, a new social group, or a new world.
to another culture requires more than learning the cultures
ways. It demands that their validity be accepted. All the social skills in
the world will not eliminate feelings of loss, bereavement,
faltering identity, or of values and beliefs besieged. Adaptation
means coming to
terms with them all.
Some obstacles crop up early in the sojourn, others later, some characteristically appearing
all the way through.
In a cross-cultural
the major obstacles demanding
could be subdivided into three categories:
1. There are differences
in values, attitudes,
and beliefs between the
home and host cultures, particularly
in the core values, those powerful, emotion-laden
images that guide everyday
acts (cf. CohenEmerique,
1988). Such value clashes put pressure on the individuals
very identity, which has hitherto been wrapped up in and defined by
those selfsame values.
2. There is loss of the familiar and/or loved objects of the home culture,
that is, all those objects that define ones former self, ones own familiar identity, which was inextricably
tied up with the lost object(s) as
much as with the lost values.
3. There is sojourners
social incompetence,
because newcomers
to a
social group have neither the perceptual sensitivity nor the behavioral
flexibility to respond appropriately
in the new setting (Mischel, 1973).
The resultant
sense of their own inadequacy
can aggravate existing
feelings of loss, homesickness,
and of values under siege.

Principle 2: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Implies Learning

The fact that cross-cultural
is more than culture learning
does not mean that no learning enters into adjustments.
On the contrary,
in this process, learning
and adjustment
are interdependent
and farreaching. Upon arrival in a new culture, the first piece of information
are often faced with is that the old rules for interpreting
the environment
and generating
behavior no longer apply
(Schild, 1962). They learn that even their specific technical, job-related

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


experience may be beside the point. Under these circumstances, problems

will ensue that will require resolution.
Problem solving in any new situation means first learning the parameters of the situation then devising responses to problems presented and
internalizing response alternatives as a function of the parameters
learned. Learning and adjustment thus operate in a reciprocal process
(Coelho, 1962).
An expanded representation of the model in Figure 1 is given in Figure
2, which also provides a graphic illustration of the relative roles adjustment and learning play in the adaptation process. In Figure 2, the sojourner is proceeding toward the goal as in Figure 1 and encounters an
obstacle for which he or she has not the ready resources to surmount.
Broadly speaking, there are four ways of reacting to the new situation:
by changing the environment, by changing oneself, by doing nothing
at all, or by walking away. A further and common type of reaction
accompanying confrontation with an obstacle is emotional. Emotions
such as frustration can act as obstacles or as motivators.
Following through Figure 2, let us say that the new cultures language
constitutes the obstacle (is a language barrier). If sojourners opt for
changing themselves, say yes to the change self option, learning may
be needed to effect the change and make the adjustment. In this case, the
individual could decide to learn the language. If the sojourner decides
not to go that route and opts instead for changing the environment,
learning may be required there too. For example, he or she may need to
learn how to enlist an interpreter. In the cross-cultural context where the
sojourner is a stranger in the house of a host, changing the parameters
of the coping situation often means changing oneself.

FIGURE 2. The cross-cultural




L. E. Anderson

Although finding a way around the obstacle by changing the environment or oneself often requires learning, it is not reducible to it. Some
obstacles can, through learning, be made to disappear outright, but not
all are amenable to learning or even to direct behavioral attack.
Sojourners who decide and/or are able to change neither themselves
nor the environment have only two options: to withdraw and relinquish
aspirations to the goal or to do nothing. Doing nothing and remaining in
place will catapult them into the loop between obstacle, negative decision
(no to both environmental and self-change) and back on to the entry
point to whirl once again around the circuit. Sojourners may travel this
loop until exhaustion overcomes them, the obstacle is removed, or they
physically withdraw.

Principle 3: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Implies a Stranger-Host

The third principle of cross-cultural adaptation, one that sharply distinguishes it from everyday life adjustments, is that it takes place in the
context of a stranger-host relationship (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1987).
Sojourners are strangers in two senses of the term-newcomers
and marginal persons (cf. McLemore, 1970; Schuetz, 1944). They are outsiders
whose task it is to work their way inside. As guests in the host
culture, they must modify their frame of reference to adapt to the culture
of the group. As a minority of one, they must learn and adjust to at least
enough of the salient features of the (majority) culture to get along in it
(Schuetz, 1944).
Being a stranger in the just-mentioned dual sense has important cognitive-psychological effects. The sojourners knowledge of objects and
events is an outsiders knowledge without any recipes for interpreting and
handling the world or for guiding interactions. Indeed the sojourners
perceptual and social incompetence and sense of inadequacy can be
highly motivating and a sharp spur to learning.
The effects of being a stranger are not only cognitive. There is inevitable emotional discomfort in being a foreigner, which is only partly made
up of the fact that all the things that define and reinforce ones identity,
status, and role are missing (Kohls, 1984, p. 37). The distinction between
host and visitor roles has important social implications too, which can
strongly color stranger-host interactions. Some cultures make greater
distinctions than others between insiders and outsiders. Some groups
have mechanisms to facilitate the socialization of newcomers; others
may have none and be antagonistic. The stranger-host relationship is
often an insider versus outsider relationship, with strong pressures being
brought to bear on the outsider to conform (Cohen-Emerique, 1984).



Principle 4: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Is Cyclical, Continuous,

and Interactive
Figure 1 and its expanded version in Figure 2 depict the process of
adjustment as involving the encountering and overcoming of an obstacle.
Life in any culture, however, presents an unending string of obstacles.
Countless times in the course of our lives, the person-environment
interplay throws up something that impedes our progress. This obstacle by
definition must be adjusted to, the problem which it represents,
solved. Possible solutions must be tried out; ineffective responses
abandoned; and effective ones adopted, fine-tuned, and retried while
new solutions are continuously being tested.
Environments are rarely static, whether in old familiar or new unfamiliar physical and social circumstances. Adaptation is a dynamic and
interactive process where individuals influence and change their environments and are influenced and changed by them in return (Bowers, 1973).
Whether we solve problems well or badly, it is a fact of life that we must
keep coping with problems as they arise.
The term cross-cultural adaptation can be considered a grab-bag term,
camouflaging a heterogeneous and complex reality. This reality is not of
a gradually advancing accommodation to a culture taken as a whole,
but a nonlinear and much more discontinuous process (Punetha, Giles,
& Young, 1987; Szalay & Inn, 1987): It is the accomplishment of a string
of (sub)adjustments to environmental or internal obstacles. In practice,
cross-cultural adaptation is built up of adjustments to a too-slow pace,
to local bureaucratic morasses, a countrys food, business hours, climate,
telephones, to ones own culture-specific inadequacies such as ignorance
of the language, or to general inabilities- to handle the new job assignment or ones loneliness, for instance. For most people, adaptation is
a recursive and cyclical problem-solving activity. Adaptation to lifes
challenging situations is not only a cyclical process where ends fade out
into new beginnings, it is also often a ferris wheel or roller-coaster ride,
with depression and elation, successes and failures in overcoming obstacles providing the hills and valleys. It is cyclical in a dual sense, therefore,
of involving both ups and downs and repetitive sequences. If the obstacles encountered along the way are perceived as small, they are likely to
be surmounted uneventfully, swiftly, and perhaps even imperceptibly. If
they are perceived as mountainous, their neutralizing might demand
great effort, generating concomitant risks of culture fatigue, burn-out,
or even what is usually termed shock.
What Figures 1 and 2 depict should more properly be understood as
just one cycle in the lifelong process of adapting to our changing and
changeable environment. The difference in the cross-cultural situation,
however, is that the environment may be unfamiliar from the start.


L. E. Anderson

Adaptation is complex. In any era of life, particularly when adapting

to another culture, it is unlikely ever to be a unitary phenomenon. All
human adjustment takes place along three dimensions - affective/emotional, cognitive/perceptual,
and (overt) behavioral. These three dimensions may be in synchronization in the adjustment process, one mediating, potentiating, or accompanying the other. The dimensions may also
be at war, producing dissonance and conflicts within the individual.
A third possibility is that they are quite independent of each other. In
cultural-contact studies, it has been amply demonstrated, for example,
that behavioral change following cross-cultural exposure does not automatically go hand in hand with emotional, attitudinal, or cognitive
change (e.g., Amir, 1969; Amir & Garti, 1977; Basu & Ames, 1970;
Selltiz & Cook, 1962). The levels of adaptation observed vary greatly
with the dimension of adjustment considered.
Figure 3 spells out the dimensional nature of cross-cultural adaptation.
It contains a flow diagram representing the recursive and linear processes
of cross-cultural adjustments based on our obstacle model. The successive periods or moments of adaptation are displayed in the different
nodes of the diagram, headed Cultural Encounter, Obstacle, Response Generation, and Overcoming.
The three cells in each node represent the different dimensions of
adjustment. They contain a sampling from the profuse array of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral manifestations that have been attributed over the past 30 years to the different periods of the adaptation
process by a broad cross-section of investigators as well as in anecdotal
accounts. Although the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions
of sojourner adjustments are separated conceptually, in reality they interpenetrate and influence each other.
The first moment of the adaptation process, where initial Cultural
Encounter occurs, is likely to end abruptly and will last only as long as
the sojourner perceives nothing requiring his or her adjustment. This
period is linear and time dependent. The next two nodes, labeled Obstacle and Response Generation, respectively, constitute an iterative
loop, designated by the arrows connecting the two. The sojourner repeats this sequence over and over as different obstacles (i.e., events
necessitating the generation of responses) are perceived to block his or
her path into the deeper recesses of the culture.
The final node, labeled Overcoming, is, like the first, linear and time
based, in short, not cyclical. It is analogous to the recovery stage, which
concludes the classic staged or curved models of culture-shock adjustment (cf. Adler, 1975; Jacobson, 1963). In the present model, the sojourner, having run through the obstacle-response generation loop numerous times, passes beyond the repetitive cycling and enters into a
phase of relatively steady progression toward harmony with the new

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


Looking at the cell describing emotional components of Cultural Encounter, we can see that the sojourner newly arrived in an unfamiliar
culture may feel a mixture of opposing emotions and a blend of positive
and negative attitudes to the sojourn, the culture, the people, and even
the organization that sent him or her into the new setting. Sojourners
may also be swinging back and forth between all the emotions. Not every
sojourn begins with the honeymoon stage described in conventional
portrayals of adaptation to a foreign culture.
One cell over in the Cultural Encounter period is the cognitive dimension. Significantly, as we saw, the cross-cultural adaptation experience is
also a process of striving to reaffirm identity and self-image in the face
of absent or weak environmental support. In these early days of the
sojourn, the individuals identity and reference groups are firmly
grounded in the home culture. The adaptation is also a process of rising
sensitivity (viz., Bennett, 1986).
Sooner or later, following initial entry into the culture, sojourners will
come up against an obstacle that blocks their progress. With their arrival
at the Obstacle stage, sojourners have now taken a giant step across a
cultures threshold and have entered its antechamber. Now the cycles
of repetitive coping begin. Obstacles are encountered that lead to the
generation of responses, one of which leads to further progress that
continues unbroken until the next obstacle intervenes.
It is important to bear in mind that the items and events appearing in
the affective, cognitive, and behavioral cells for both the obstacle and
response-generation periods may apply to the same sojourner sometimes
simultaneously, sometimes sequentially. One obstacle may generate
panic and confusion at one cycle and a confident, hopeful, coping reaction within the same individual at another. Different obstacles will produce different sets of cognitive, affective, and behavior events and responses. Some obstacles will be so minor that the responses they trigger
will go unnoticed even by the individual responding.
An obstacle may remain the same between two iterations of the cycle,
but a coping episode is never static. It changes in quality as a function of
new information received and appraisals of the outcomes of previous
responses made (Lazarus et al., 1974, p. 260). On each run through the
loop, obstacles are identified and responses devised, performed, and appraised. Potential obstacles are limitless, and there is no shortage of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral
responses to draw upon.
The cells under Response Generation give a sampling of the myriad
thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors exhibited by sojourners
attempting to cope with problems in their paths. In the early periods of
intercultural adjusting, the number of responses generated tends to be
large. The neophyte sojourner often has no orderly routines or readymade repertoire of effective responses with which to meet the problem

.crawng for home

. resentment, wleasiwss,
- boredom, tedium
identity/role confirmed


* hi(lh expect&tons. energy,


. excitement, fasdnation
with new/exotic



- cogniliie freeze
- spectator
to bbrre,
see more differences,
focus on supenidatfphysic.
* deny diirences,
* low self-awareness
- disorfentation. perceptual
chaos, mgn. dwmance,
stings in impressions
- home-cuthue mcfe vivid/
6Hferentiated tha host
- expectations unealistii




changing: high

. explcfatory set: awareness
of more subtleties 8 contrasts,
growing sensitii,
stereotypes. but diirences
judges inatmnat. perceptions
still undiierentated
. perceptual finer being overwhelmed, bewilderment.
underbeliy now glimpsed
- role/expectatiw
valuesldeas questioned,
* defenca vs rejection Of
* awareness of inadequades.
- home fading, overidealized.


by cut behaviors, vfdent swings

between acttvelwtward and
inward/retreat activity
- continue information-gathering
- step up sock4 interactii

. develop job role
. tackle complexities, start rde
* seek modus vivendi
* cliquish, griping behaiar. stereo
aggressiwness, assertive-

* crittcism, hostilii. shock,

disbelief, disorientation,
attitude more negative
* lowering self-conridencel
esteem; vulnerabilii,
general defensiveness
- inaeasing prof.lac&emic
satisfaction. dissatisfaction
wfth supenidal relationships
- self-centered/conscious
. hopefulnesss&confidence
- excitement, high energy.

- rx~$elf

* crisis: romance one/
messianic camp 9ex offdisillusionment
- crisis: work now routine,
tedious, uphiii struggle;
crisis: strangeness becomes
* aisis: mourning separation,
loss of social ties, homesickness, psychasomatic
problems, hopelessness.

complaints. sublin@m.
more - go native; start to reorganize Me,
relationships, job role(s), develop skills, look&ten
mom, ~ntasify Iearnings - lang./nomW


daFmdmw ~~~.
lowwrewn honle. rema km job.

time: rvlll(. amtessess,

wth hosls. hostttlty. strswJthen cdt. am-



modW values/







-start to accept sihmtfon: fatalism,

. holding pxitb3

. lower axpectados.

. eWy.ora

. wish&hilling
* minimize dtfferences
. afsis: old identitylreferece
fading, naw ago iwornplate.
kmer wodd disintsgrattng
detaching fronl ha%
reattaching lo host
- search for meaning,
start reorganizing identky
.move*: awareness more
T s&(iuxrasts

* rejection. regressio.
* blame self
. red@w situation: mqimize
WwYrN~~eStMt Mame, WJre,



. +/

* treatebcttng
. citizenship

like nattve

being ac.xn@iihad
* wpporl group membership
* set+adualiiation,
lavel satii-

* means of livelihood,



* communication

* self-confidence,
start enjoying
differences, beginning
. ten&x
gwta, relaxing
* satisfacbon with relatiow
* ws. attitude to homehost
* fading of belongingnass,
bust. not Ming
sense of shared fate
* needs being mat, full range
Of emotions
. growth in pwsonal tIexibilii



insider awareness. noniudaamentalness.
the in&r
accept than adapt to the
integrate titierences -new
cubral values, identity, s&fimage OTold ones reconfinned
mcfe realistic
raf. group membership conflict resolvsd. pos. identification wkh hostmome
sense of shared fate



L. E. Anderson

situations as they arise. Thus, a characteristic feature of early adjustment

attempts is that they proceed by trial and error.
Several generic coping alternatives are available, as we saw before.
The first choice sojourners can make in response to an obstacle is to do
nothing instrumental at all. Sojourners might decide simply to avoid the
issues, mark time (hoping it will go away), or try to distract themselves
from the problem by alcohol abuse or physical complaints, for example.
They could also reduce stress, if not the obstacle behaviorally, by
attacking the obstacle, retaliating against it or against the hosts. They
could also decide to refrain from any accommodations at all, ignoring
obstacles, adhering to a role of cultural ambassador for their own
country. Psychological defense of this sort can be adaptive in that it buys
time during an acute crisis phase (Adams & Lindemann, 1974, p. 131).
Sojourners may decide that any directed action of this sort will be
fruitless and opt for taking flight, physically withdrawing from the assault on their adjustive capacities if they can (e.g., by returning home),
or, if they cannot, take flight by retreating psychologically into wishfulfilling fantasies, books, or co-national ghettos, for instance.
These early runs through the obstacle-response generation loops present a number of critical crossroads to the sojourner, which can make or
break the cross-cultural experience. It is here that the sojourner must
take great care not just to bolt. A host of tantalizing inducements to
flight present themselves throughout the adaptation process. They must
be guarded against. If sojourners flee from the situation, they relinquish
all aspirations to overcoming their outsider status. Many sojourns
break at these junctions.
There are only two types of adaptive instrumental options available to
the sojourner. Nothing but these will push him or her on and over the
hump of the coping loops and into Overcoming. One option is to try to
change the environment in order to eliminate the obstacle. If the situation appears to be amenable to change, adjusters might decide to tackle
the object directly. The environment may not only be altered objectively
by the sojourner, it may also be redefined conceptually. The meaning of
the experience might be perceptually controlled in order to neutralize its
problematic nature.
This holding position can in itself be salutory, because adaptation
often calls for delay, strategic retreat, regrouping of forces, and abandoning of untenable positions (White, 1974, p. 30). Controlling the environment in this way, however, may prove to be as impossible a response
as temporizing, rationalization, fight, or flight.
Sojourners may conclude that their only hope is to start changing
themselves- the other instrumental option-such that the obstacle is no
longer an obstacle for them. At the cognitive level, they could try to
neutralize it by modifying personal beliefs and values to accord better

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


with those of the host culture, set or reset priorities, and lower expectations and standards for their own behavior or that of others. The particular responses generated at any time depend on the problems encountered.
In the real world, there are many situations where no instrumental
option is available, situations that can only be met with compromise or
even resignation. This produces what Lazarus and Folkman (1984) called
emotion-focussed coping. It leaves the obstacle objectively untouched
and targets only its emotional, motor-behavioral,
or psychological effects. Sojourners can try to reduce the stress engendered by the obstacle
by deceiving themselves about it or by trying to make the best of the
situation as it is. The obstacle might simply be accepted as a cross to be
borne. Although emotional components of personality appear to be the
major contributors to adjustment efforts at the beginning, it is the intellectual components that tend to come into play in the later periods (Aldasheva, 1984).
If in the extreme case there is no solution whatsoever, the solution
remains ineffective, or the obstacle persists, sojourner coping mechanisms can rapidly find themselves overwhelmed, which may lead to exhaustion, burnout, and dropping out. This could degenerate into a fullblown frustration syndrome or, in traditional parlance, culture shock.
There is no magic formula that will break the sojourner free of the
meshes of coping and into the relatively calm seas of overcoming. The
sojourner can only continue adjusting. There are, however, a number of
engines that can push the sojourner further on toward overcoming.
Once a critical momentum has been reached, the sojourners forward
motion becomes self-sustaining. There are three such engines: (a) a willingness to open oneself up to new cultural influences, (b) a willingness to
face obstacles head-on by the use of instrumental strategies, and (c) and
perhaps most crucial of all, a resolve not to run away.
What fuels these engines, in addition to a heavy dose of time, is,
significantly, the support of peers. Our approach to solving problems
and our resolve to continue doing so are strongly reinforced when we
feel approved of and secure in the esteem of our circle, however we
define it. We may seek social support in one person or a multitude,
among co-nationals or host culture natives. Securing or carving out a
supportive environment by a steady concentration on expanding social
interactions is the central task of outsiders working their way in. Lack of
environmental support may be the chief curse of the intercultural sojourner (cf. Guthrie, 1975; Smith, Fawcett, Ezekiel, & Roth, 1963).
We all develop adjustment habits. We move against obstacles, work
around them, or run from them. Some people habitually deny situations
of threat, others intellectualize. One may appraise a given situation as
stressful, another as an invigorating challenge. Some individuals constitutionally feel helpless against an all-powerful environment; others be-


L. E. Anderson

lieve in their own masterfulness in the face of environment events (cf.

Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Some feel threatened by change or difference
and refuse even to see it (cognitive freeze). Others, perhaps more secure in their sense of self, may actively seek it out, either as detached
spectators or eagerly, ever on the look-out for the exotic or bizarre.
How any of us responds at any moment depends on our current appraisals of the stimulus situation. These appraisals in turn depend on
both personal and situational factors (cf. Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
The pattern and strength of our motivations, our current emotional
state, commitments, beliefs and expectations, the degree of our interaction with host country inhabitants, and the relative power of our personal resources, for instance, all have an influence on the coping responses that are chosen. They interact with such features of the situation
as its novelty, imminence, potency, or uncertainty to induce selection of
a particular response to a particular stimulus at a particular time.
The sojourner in an unfamiliar culture, like the newcomer to any
unfamiliar situation, is not a horse in a steeplechase being flogged along
by its rider. Some hurdles will be flatly rejected; sometimes sojourners
will decide to bolt from a bad situation; the same obstacle that is viewed
as a challenge and leapt to with alacrity on one cycle may be recoiled
from on another. In coping, the time dimension is all important. Situation parameters are constantly changing and so are the sojourners cognitions and emotions. Reappraisals, clearer thinking, or a burst or renewed
vigor may point ,to different responses as being more effective or appropriate than ones tried earlier.
It is likely that many if not most individuals swing back and forth
between the two extremes of positive and negative thoughts and emotions, that most try out a number of both adaptive and maladaptive,
adjustive and maladjustive behaviors, particularly during the first three
periods of the adaptation process. Responses generated can range from
the most flexible and mature down to total rigidity and psychotic disintegration.
Adaptation begins when the sojourner acknowledges the obstacle situation and decides on a consistent strategy of instrumental solutions. It is
impossible, however, to pinpoint a particular endpoint in adaptation to a
dynamic environment, whether in familiar surroundings or in unfamiliar
ones. Moreover, the identity building that occurs in cross-cultural adaptation can never be viewed as a final, static achievement; it is a process
that is continually being re-edited (Garza-Guerrero,
1974). That is why
the last moment of the adaptation process is called Overcoming, with
the emphasis placed on the progressive nature of the action. At this last
period, adjusters who stand on the threshold to overcoming are on the
home stretch, but the location of the finish line is unique to each individual.

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


The final stage in attaining competence in another culture is defined

by each individual-it
is when adjusters feel that they fit into their environment without chafing. Each individuals definition of fitting will be
as different as his or her adjustment will be unique and personal (Coe,
1972; White, 1974). People do not fit identically into their home cultures.
The sequence of person-environment transactions sojourners have been
involved in almost from their first cultural encounter has wrought changes
in both themselves and their surroundings. Their attempts to change self
or environment in each adjustment cycle have smoothed their edges and
rounded off their corners. They are no longer pure products of their home
culture. They have fashioned a fit and attained transcultural maturity.
Sojourners have entered the overcoming stage when they start to feel a
lessening of stress and tension in the person-environment
Significantly, as in most adjustment or problem-solving situations, individuals tend only to recognize having got over the worst when it is
already behind them. There are few signposts that the trying times are
largely over beyond a dawning awareness, when looking back, that the
coping cycles have begun to decrease in frequency and in amplitude. The
heights of the hills and depth of the valleys have started to level off.
Cognitively, sojourners begin to see the reality of the new society as it
is more than as they would have it. They have either modified their
self-image and identity as a function of experience in the new culture or
have reconfirmed the old ones.
Affectively, sojourners are settling down to a more even keel; objects
and events confronting them have become less emotionally charged.
They begin to enjoy the differences of the new culture, to be satisfied
with their relationships and experiences in it. One measure of the completeness of former outsiders sense of belonging is whether they can
now, with impunity, reveal nonconformity in their behavior, express
divergent opinions, or criticize aspects of the host culture without jeopardizing their standing in it (Gardner, 1952).
Behaviorally, sojourners are functioning more and more as autonomous beings, with an ever-expanding behavior repertoire that is becoming more and more self-driven and indistinguishable from that of host
It is clear from Figure 3 that there is no single outcome of the cultural
adaptation process. The degrees and modes of adjustment, or maladjustment for that matter (cf. McGuire & McDermott, 1987), will depend on
the individual doing the adjusting and on the situation within which
the adjustments evolve. Some people never get beyond initial cultural
encounter. They may bolt, apply ineffectual solutions, or be hobbled by
lack of social support. Some remain but function forever as cultural
tourists or impervious cultural ambassadors, merely observing the
passing scene from a comfortable remove.


L. E. Anderson

The endpoint of adaptation is not a point but a continuum. Although the adjustment cycle, in theory, has one entry point, it contains
multiple exits. Individuals may emerge in any period and on any dimension. For the sake of simplicity, we have adapted the Sargent model cited
in the CIDA Briefing Centre (1986) manual and arbitrarily divided the
disparate population of individuals emerging from the adjustment cycle,
following initial cultural encounter and first confrontation with an obstacle, into six discrete categories.
The Returnees are those who withdraw at an early stage, who never
learn to cope, much less to overcome. Cognitively, behaviorally, and
emotionally at odds with their surroundings, they may develop problems
that can result in repatriation. Unable or unwilling to face or master the
obstacles, they bolted. Never progressing beyond outbursts of aggression
against what they perceived to be a hostile environment alternating with
impromptu flights from it, the responses generated brought them little
success. If any instrumental strategies were tried, they were not effective,
and all attempts to cope were subsequently abandoned.
The Escapers remain but are motivated by the urge to get away. They
might at times have attempted to fight their surroundings but were defeated. As a result, they slumped into a strategy of retreating, of waiting
and hoping it will all go away. They avoid, hide, blame others, and
immerse themselves in activities that distract them from the need to cope
and from the unpleasant reality outside. Both Returnees and Escapers
may never progress beyond functioning at a tourist or cultural ambassador level.
The Time Servers are what have been referred to as brown outs
(Lanier, 1979). These are people who stay the course, have coped as well
as they were able, appear to be functioning passably in their job, but
who emotionally and cognitively are in reality just serving their time
(Szanton, 1966, p. 53), mildly but chronically discontented, their condition over the longer run showing up most frequently as depression (Menninger & English, 1965). Such individuals avoid issues and fly from
major obstacles encountered. Not even making an attempt to fight the
situation, much or all of their concentration goes into enduring it. Time
Servers can be found working at low capacity, exhibiting poor productivity in their assignments and minimal participation in their work and
social lives. Their every waking moment is spent looking dimly ahead to
the day they will return home.
These three categories of sojourner may have a support group surrounding them, may even be willing to some degree to embrace cultural
relativity, but their readiness to bolt from their situation and their neglect
of instrumental strategies make it all but impossible that they will ever
overcome their outsider status.
The Beavers are the counterparts of the Escapers. Whereas Escapers

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


cope with their situation by hiding from it, Beavers, conscious of a poor
fit with their environment, cope by burying themselves up to their necks
in task-related aspects of it. These people are often rated as high
achievers. In their interpersonal relations, however, outside of their work,
their very busyness keeps host nationals, culture, and events at bay.
Only the last two categories of sojourner come within sight of overcoming. The Adjusters are those who are making do, are mixing with
host culture members, are more or less satisfied with their experience,
have come to an understanding of the culture and country intellectually,
and are behaving appropriately. What sets them apart from genuine
Participators in the society is that they are still trying to fit in. Adjusters
may alternate between times-out, spending most of their free time with
fellow expatriates, and times-in, devoting themselves effectively to
melding with the new culture in social or professional/academic
Adjusters are still (actively) coping: Adjustments have not yet become
The final case is the Participators, those who are effective, involved,
high performers. They have stood up and faced the obstacles thrown at
them, have run the gauntlet of successive obstacle-response generation
loops and emerged headfirst. Cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally,
they are full-fledged participants in the society. Hanvey (1987) told of
two Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines who were rated as highly
successful both by the Peace Corps and by host-country nationals. In
Hanveys own words:
Did the two volunteers go native? In a sense. Perhaps the most important
respect in which this is true lies in the acceptance of the worth and authority of
the local communitys standards of conduct. These volunteers participated in
Filipino life. (p. 17)

What makes a Participator is a willingness, even an eagerness, in the new

situation to learn, to shift awareness, to admit a new cultural perspective,
and to search for new meaning and reference groups. The process of
becoming a Participator is considerably handicapped without a positive,
determined, and hopeful attitude.
All of these categories and particularly the last obviously cover a wide
range of forms and modes of adaptation: from the total conversion of a
Lawrence of Arabia to the multicultural individual endowed with multiple-role capabilities who would behave effectively and appropriately in
either culture. This brings us to the fifth principle of cross-cultural adaptation, one that is paramount to full understanding of it.

Principle 5: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Is Relative

Most investigators tend to focus on the extreme outcomes of the adjustment process: the nonadapters, who fail and withdraw psychologi-


L.. E. Anderson

tally or physically, and the adapters, who succeed and emerge into the
sunlight of cultural adaptation acting and feeling like insiders. Adaptation to another culture, however, is not as simple a matter as of coping
or else copping out in Harris and Morans terms (1979, p. 85), or even
of surviving or growing (Harris & Moran, 1979, p. 163).
The great majority of adjusters probably fall between the two extremes, making some sort of peace with the local culture (Szanton, 1966,
p. 53). Even after decades in a foreign environment, sojourner adaptation is almost never a complete process, in the sense of an individual
functioning exactly like the person who has been socialized into that
culture from birth (Broome, 1985, p. 15).
From a survey of the literature, it is clear that there are probably as
many degrees, kinds, and levels of adaptation as there are situations
and individuals adapting. Adaptation may take place at the behavioral,
cognitive, or affective level or at any combination thereof (cf. Thuy,
1980). In a particular cross-cultural situation, all that may be required is
behavioral change (Schild, 1962). By far the most common form of
adaptation is attitudinal-simply
empathy (Bennett, 1986, p. 185).
It is clear from the cultural adaptation model that adjusters produce
and create their own adaptation; they do not swallow it like a bitter
pill. Although the theoretical model outlines a methodical and complete
process of adjustment (or maladjustment), moving the sojourner like a
game piece on a board through successive iterations involving subadjustments to a cultures obstacles, it is clear that sojourners are no more
hapless victims of an outrageous culture than they are bloodless automata lockstepping their way through it.
Adjustment involves a set of alternatives (Berry, 1990). Sojourners
can balk, bog down, or regress. They can submit to their cross-cultural
experience or model it like clay, actively seeking out solutions to problems in their paths. Sojourners can appropriate or devise strategies, develop aids and mental dispositions that will assist them in their coping.
They can work to build environmental support, secure a host country
ally, lower expectations, participate actively in the new culture, or create
a home, all of which are adjustable factors in overseas success.
The choice is theirs -They can tackle situations head-on or drift with the
push and pull of events.
The six categories of sojourn outcome given in Figure 3 could be
considered discrete labels for different degrees and/or patterns of adaptation at different exit points from the adjustment cycle. At the logical
optimum of these categories, representing the ideal type of adjuster, is
perhaps someone like Gardners (1952) universal communicator or La
Bracks (1985) charnelon-like protean man, if such a being exists.
The model of cross-cultural adaptation proposed in these pages is
certainly not new, and the perspective it takes is not particularly novel.

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


The psychological model from which it is drawn is an old one, and

other investigators well before now have asserted their conviction that
cross-cultural adaptation should be viewed as an instance of the critical
life events that dog the human condition. The model is simply the
outcome of a wide-ranging survey of existing intercultural literature to
which a somewhat different and perhaps broader perspective than is
customarily the case has been applied. It reconnects cultural adaptation
with its roots in sociopsychological adjustment theory. It illuminates it
with the lights of the extensive literature available on human behavior,
development, and adaptation, with its classic concepts of drives, motivation, needs, frustration, perception, and situational stimuli.
Having culled its data from the disparate chorus of findings in crosscultural studies, the model has the potential of unifying much of the
present and past depictions of cross-cultural experience. Being based on
principles of sociopsychological adjustment, it also has application to
many if not all of lifes significant events, beyond the case of prolonged
cross-cultural exposure. The particular melodrama of the culture-shock
specter haunting conventional models is swept away. The shock is no
more than a frustration reaction syndrome, a syndrome that can be
evidenced on a multitude of levels, from a childs tantrum brought on by
continued physical restraint all the way to the uprising of a nation repeatedly repressed by its rulers.
The model can apply to all categories of sojourners, long and short
term, regardless of the range or depth of their social encounters or their
degree of exposure to host culture people and events, and regardless of
the obviously great differences there are between, for example, tourist
and refugee. All newcomers to a social group enter at the Cultural Encounter stage. Where they diverge is where they embrace different dimensions in their responses and cover different distances through the
adjustment periods.
The technical expert may live and behave throughout the tour at the
Cookes tour or Cultural Encounter level, observing people and events
as detachedly as in a kaleidoscope, having performed few or no cycles to
adjustment. The tourist, although the rare one, could by the same token
penetrate deeply into the psyche of a country and its people (Pool, 1958),
if motivated to do so and if gifted with seeing eyes.

Principle 6: Cross-Cultural Adaptation Implies Personal

Major life adjustments such as are required in childhood, aging, or in
adapting to a strange environment can all be construed as developmental
events (Jacobson, 1963; Lazarus, 1976; Miller & Sollie, 1980). Personal
development does not arise out of the performance of habits. Develop-


L. E. Anderson

mental events function as challenges that push the individual to devise

coping strategies to overcome them, after which, obeying the law of
entropy (Reiss & Oliveri, 1980), the individual can, probably gratefully,
subside into the more orderly routines of daily life.
Adapting to ones environment, especially a new one, is a dynamic
process that can be an all-day, 7-day-a-week affair (Szanton, 1966, p.
47). Similarly, the identity building and rebuilding it involves are virtually unceasing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the process of adapting to a new culture, when it does occur, is more than the sum of the
adjustments that build it, from the moment of initial cultural encounter
to the moment overcoming is under way. The string of adjustments
accomplished can produce marked changes in the sojourner, which can
lead to a significant outcome. The cultural sojourn is a voyage that can
end in the resocialization of the sojourner.
Primary socialization has always meant, in essence, making children
fit to live in society by persuading them to learn and accept its codes (cf.
Watts, 1957, p. 19). The ensuing development is the product of learning
and adjustment. The child, by sequential accommodations to unfamiliar
sociopsychological circumstances, is deemed to internalize the values,
beliefs, and attitudes of his or her reference social group. In this way, he
or she acquires the potential to generate appropriate behaviors in response to environmental events (Green & Johns, 1966; Mischel, 1973),
but no child is an empty sponge. Each child creates the degree and form
of his or her adaptation to the social group that befits his or her nature.
By devising a particular fit, he or she develops into a unique adult.
Whether cultural adaptation occurs the first time around, to the child
in the form of primary socialization, or the second time, to the adult as
secondary socialization, the socialization process continues lifelong. As
an adult-learning process, however, it is a more conscious and probably
more arduous exercise, not the least because it implies some resocialization. The individual needs to unlearn at least some of the norms and
rules that were acquired during initial socialization (Spradley & Phillips,
1972). Adult socialization also involves role learning. Individuals cannot
be prepared during childhood for all the complex roles they will be called
upon to play later in their lives, such as upon entering school, adulthood,
or old age (Brim, 1971).
The position of adults sojourning in an alien social system who must
learn and adjust to its customs and values is little different from adults
experiencing social mobility or encountering disruptive changes in society at large or in their own lives (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Sewell, 1963).
The onset of long-term disability, for example, requires significant shifts
in identity, references, attitudes, and behavior (Oberg, 1960; Salinger,
Complete adult resocialization of the order of primary socialization

Cross-Cultural Adaptation


may never occur, or occur only where conditions of motivation and

reward are very great. There are also limits, obviously, that are set by the
individuals biological capacities and by the effects of early learning or
lack of it (Brim, 1971; Condon & Yousef, 1980). Certainly not everyone
who undergoes an intercultural experience achieves a quantum leap in
learning and skills or in personal growth. Many refuse new cultural
adjustments or see only identity dilution, cultural betrayal, or even personal abasement in embracing new socialization events.

Not all writers paint an unremittingly black picture of cross-cultural
adaptation. Indeed, there is one profound effect of prolonged intercultural exposure about which many investigators have remarked. Emerging
on the far side of an experience of coming to terms with a strange culture
has been observed to produce some remarkable alterations in individuals
consciousness, even to have changed their lives. Subjects frequently observe that the process was like a personal religious experience in profoundness, sublimeness, and personal significance (cf. Adler, 1987, p.
30; Guthrie, 1975, p. 100). Such individuals appear not only to have
grown substantially but even to have been reborn by their transcultural
Cross-cultural adaptation, like all adjustment, is a dialectical process.
It has the potential for being as positive an experience as negative. Obstacles and crises encountered may trigger a developmental process or symptoms of psychological disturbance. For one thing, the individuals firm
sense of self, being grounded in stable self-esteem and individual identity, can be sorely battered during the early days of adjustment. It is for
this reason that the process has been viewed as essentially one of rebuilding personal identity in the face of environmental disturbance (e.g., Adler, 1975; Garza-Guerrero, 1974; Minkler & Biller, 1979). Sojourners can
just survive, remaining at the discomfort side of the dialectic, but they
can also decide to work through it, by sticking to the task, carving out a
support system, implementing instrumental coping strategies, and accepting new norms, values, and attitudes as valid.
Many writers focus on the shock and the alienation, a few on the
exhilaration and the self-actualization (cf. Clarke, 1974). In the reports
of culture shock, identity crises, and rampant cross-cultural evils, there
is certainly a good deal of evidence to support the pessimistic view. The
question that arises, however, is to what extent the pervasive bias toward
reification of the intercultural adaptation construct is responsible for
perpetrating and propagating that view. Instead of construing cultural
adaptation as a mental health concept, a more appropriate conception

L. E. Anderson


might be simply as the development

of competence
in response to challenges (Smith, 1966, p. 565).
It is hoped that the present cultural adaptation
model, by providing a
more broadly focused and interdisciplinary
might be a small
step in a more fruitful direction for research into the process of adaptation as well as into ways to smooth its course. Attention
to the timehonored principles of social and psychological
theory should
reveal other truths about how people come to terms with unfamiliar
cultures, countries, or peoples.



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