A simplified model of Intercultural Adaptation, which shows
inverse parabolic arc (i.e., the "U-shaped" curve) that
we often go through when adjusting to new cultures.
Cai & Rodriguez (1996) give an overview of the communication
role in this process across nine propositions.
Two new ways that we might take a communication science (communiciology?) approach to this would be a focus on "intercultural adaptation" and "intercultural competence." The former focuses on Let's break them down seperately, and then I'll ask you guys to put them together in your weekly post.
The following blog offers recommendations on how to
overcome these awkward new moments; I would not
recommend any of their suggestions.
IA looks at how we might try to continually alter our communication patterns to reduce misunderstandings - a common example of this is using exaggerated hand gestures when trying to convey meaning to someone who speaks a different language. Why would this play into culture? The notion here is that cross-cultural encounters are the result of individuals from different backgrounds relying on their social norms in an encounter. Example: In the US it is acceptable to hug an old friend whereas in many parts of Europe you may see friends kissing each on both cheeks. In the US, a kiss might be construed as having much more intimacy or meaning, which can lead to a rather awkward pause and silence.
Of course, with experience we hope to get better at avoiding these misunderstandings - the same "American" from above migth travel abroad in the future armed with this slight cultural knowledge and be better-prepared when old friends kiss him or her on the cheek. because their past experiences were rather positive (a kiss on the cheek represents a friendship, and this is a good thing). At the same time, not all experiences are positive and we can reinforce negative as well as positive interactions. Indeed, a common stereotype among US travelers can be how poorly they are treated when visiting France - often a result of miscommuniations from a lack of language skills and Francophile culture. Said negative interactions with one cultural group can drive individuals away from future intercultural interactions or at least, cause them to be more guarded when meeting "foreigners" in the future.
What does this mean for intercultural communication? It suggests that many cultural interactions can be understood in terms of how we communicate ourselves. Moreover, it suggests that much of our communicative behaviors are best understood as a function of the culture from which we stem - understanding communication is understanding culture, and vice versa.
Intercultural CompetenceAnother way of thinking about how we are "working" interculturally is to focus on our competence, defined by Fantini (2005) as "the complex of abilities needed to perform effectively and appropriately
when interacting with others who are linguistically and culturally different from oneself." An interesting distinction here is found between "effective" (how well we think we are doing) compared to "appropriate" (how well our hosts think we are doing). It is likely no secret that these perceptions can differ widely from each other, yet the better we are at detecting how our hosts are responding to our communication is the better we are at adapting ourselves to our new culture. Example: You might speak slowly and wave your arms while yelling at a barista to prepare you a michekaffe (which you're probably still calling a coffee with milk, if you're taking this approach) and you'll likely get your coffee (effective communication) - yet this behavior is hardly going to endear you to your hosts (inappropriate communication). Thus, to truly be interculturally competent we much struggle to balance out effectiveness with appropriateness, which is not so easy of a task.
- Cai, D. A., & Rodriguez, J. I. (1996). Adjusting to Cultural Differences: The Intercultural Adaptation Model. Intercultural Communication Studies, 1(2).
- Fantini, A. E. (2005). About Intercultural Communicative Competence: A Construct. Brattleboro, VT: School for International Training.