Here's how Sajitha Veettilakath, an Indian studying Business Administration in the United States, described cultural adjustment. “I was in a quandary whether I should change my accent abroad. I wanted to fit in and be understood. I realized I could adjust myself to be better understood, make friends and find a job while remaining true to myself as an Indian.” Sajitha struggled for months to understand the culture of her host country and frequently wondered why so many things she had learnt in her life suddenly did not ‘work’ the same way.
Being away from home
When we live away from home, we are confronted daily with situations that challenge everything that we have been socialized to believe is the ‘right’ way. A way of approaching professors in India, for example, does not have the same effect abroad. The approach to studying and getting good grades in India could result in failing grades abroad. So we want to fit in, be accepted, understand how to be successful, get good grades, and enjoy our lives and careers. But then the challenge is to be able to do all that with the understanding that we might still often feel like ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’.
How do we balance our enthusiasm trying to fit in the new environment while retaining our cultural identity? There is no formula other than a continuous process of cultural adjustment. Where does our identity overlap or conflict with the identity abroad? What kind of stereotypes do you think people of the host country have of your country or culture? We must be open to exploring “There is no formula to fit in, other than a continuous process of cultural adjustment” ourselves and other’s identity when we are abroad to dispel myths and stereotypes. After all, we do not like others interacting with us based on stereotypes.
After interacting with the people of the host country, we may realize the truth or falsehood in our stereotypes. We may also come to know where our values differ or converge with the locals. And we may have a better idea as to where we need to adjust to be successful in the new culture without losing our identity. It helps to set oneself goals both in cultural adjustment and in retaining our cultural identity.
Remaining true to one’s cultural identity in a foreign land often requires simple things like staying in touch with family and friends back home, finding people to speak your native language with, finding ways to cook your favourite foods, watching TV or listening to radio in your language, observing your cultural holidays, and dressing in your ethnic clothes from time-to-time. It is also important to not let go of any opportunity to educate people around you about your country and culture.
Leave an impression
Studying abroad offers you some opportunities that you would not have in your home country. Get involved in your college’s international student affairs or global clubs on campus. These opportunities can open doors to meeting other international students and influential members of the campus community, such as deans, principals and CEOs. You can leave an impression on them – by showcasing your understanding of local ways while being true to who you are!
Jennifer helps Indians prepare for a life abroad while retaining their identity
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