Tools, Strategies, and Resources, continued
Cultural Awareness and Culture Shock
Cultural awareness is promoted by the process of encountering
difference. When one perceives
that another person does not behave according to one’s
own deeply held cultural expectations, this collision is an opportunity
to consider these expectations more fully in light of this encounter
and to assess how they are culturally bound.
Although the term “culture
shock” usually applies to experiences with people raised in different
countries, shocks of much smaller scale can occur as people encounter
different families, schools, and work or home environments.
It is also
common for people to perceive themselves as normal and others as different
or deviating. This perception is related to ethnocentricism, a tendency
that seems to be common to every culture—viewing one’s
own group as superior as well as the norm. The following figure, adapted
with permission from Storti (2001), offers a depiction of what happens
when people behave contrary to our expectations, or we behave contrary
The process of
cultural awareness is ongoing. Even the knowledge that members of other
cultural groups behave differently may
not impact our behavior. “What the conscious intellect tells us … is
no match for what a lifetime of cultural conditioning has taught us.
For the notion of cultural differences to take deep and lasting root
in our psyche, it must be constantly reinforced over a sustained period
until it is internalized. Until that time, it’s entirely possible—indeed,
it’s inevitable—that we can cheerfully subscribe to the view
that foreigners are different and still be stunned the first time we
see a Hindu drink cow urine” (Storti, 2001, p. 69).
Storti adds that because culture is related so strongly to values, cross-cultural
challenges to belief systems can be perceived as threats, and the response
is often deeply emotional. Thus, cultural awareness requires understanding,
reflection, and supports in order to deal with the strong opinions and
emotions that cross-cultural conflict can provoke.