A different view of what “I” represents in different cultures, a cultural framework in which we grow up, a system of norms and values, successfully shape the personality through a process of socialization and it affects our behaviour. While growing up in a specific environment, we already see ourselves in a certain way, which in practice means being “a certain type of person” which is how we confirm belonging to a specific culture.
Identifying a person as a member of a specific group entails interpretation and evaluation through standards that are inherent to that group. The members want to be recognized in that way and they express their agreement and their belonging on that basis. According to anthropologist Benedict Anderson, a nation is an imagined community – imagined because even though we don’t know most members of our nation, we have an image of a community in our minds.
A nation is an imagined community – imagined because, despite the class differences that exist in the society, we perceive the members of our nation as one entity.
Already with the basic difference between collectivistic and individualistic societies we can see a completely different reference framework where the thoughts of the first show reflection and needs of the collective. Happiness is happiness if it is in the function of satisfaction of broader needs of the group. In members of individualistic societies, the entire focus is placed on the individual, their needs, their unique understanding of the world and their unique happiness. Be yourself is an ideal, and the only social obligation of every person is to live in accordance with their own values. The deeper we analyse the differences, the finer they get in order to finally become individual differences.
In a foreign country, we will primarily try to connect with members of our nation, and it is natural for encounters with other cultures to depict their differences at first. The experience that an individual goes through when they move to another country is the challenge to adapt, this experience is inevitable for everyone, and as the differences between different cultures grow, the more pronounced it becomes. Also, the stronger the cultural framework we live in has shaped our representation of the world, the greater problems with the adjustment will be. In science literature, the “culture shock” is explained through 3 stages:
▪ Honeymoon Stage: we are fascinated by the new and idealize everything that is new and different in the other culture;
▪ Negotiation Stage: after the initial excitement and fascination, the differences become obvious – this stage is accompanied by criticism of other people's culture and often is accompanied by depression;
▪ Adjustment Stage: the person accepts the customs of the other culture, knows what to expect in most situations and again functions very well.
Unfortunately, some people never adapt and remain living in isolation in another country, while others become fully integrated, losing their original identity. The third group would be the cosmopolitans who have adopted the aspects of culture they deemed positive, and preserved some of their distinctive characteristics. It is understandable that each adjustment to something new represents a sort of a psychological challenge, but what is interesting is that there is also a so-called “reverse culture shock” which is manifested through problems with re-adaptation to primary culture when they return home.
Everyone who had the opportunity to live abroad will probably be able to testify that after returning to their country, they no longer fully identify with their primary culture.
The experience of adapting to another culture is both a catalyst for change and a potential for individual development. Exposure to other cultures provides us with an international paradigm, which essentially means the breadth of understanding others, and this in return has remarkably positive implications for development and interactions with other people. In practice, this draws us away from approaching others through stereotypes which are based on simplification and generalization. By multiplying international experiences, we understand increasingly more that the ways of perceiving the world are different, and that is how we shift our paradigm from “being right” to “understanding”.
Development of an individual is never a linear or a passive process of multiplying knowledge. Development is not a state to be reached, but an active process of construction and designing of reality. With this the adaptation process lasts as long as the human life, because a man and his environment are constantly changing.