Scholarly article on topic 'Culture Shock an Obstacle for EFL Learners'

Culture Shock an Obstacle for EFL Learners Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Renan Saylag

Abstract Students from different countries are exposed to new cultural, social and intellectual experiences in a second language learning environment. Reviews of previous studies suggest that their beliefs, values and attitudes to knowledge can lead to ‘culture shock.’ In this study, theoretical concepts of culture shock and adaptation are reviewed in relation to the pedagogical adaptation of students in an unfamiliar culture. An interview with a sample of 38 Prep. School students, mainly from Azerbeijan, Syria and Iraq at Bahcesehir University were reviewed. The results showed that foreign students had some major difficulties adjusting to academic requirements, particularly with regard to managing the demands of the English as Foreign Language program (EFL). This is a qualitative study which specifically analyzes culture shock in respect to psychological perspectives stress, social identification and adaptation. The use of various indicators showed that foreign students manifested significantly higher degrees of stress, than did the local students. The recommendations of the study are that more academic and counseling support and resources should be provided for this increasing intake of foreign students.

Academic research paper on topic "Culture Shock an Obstacle for EFL Learners"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 114 (2014) 533 - 537

4th World Conference on Psychology, Counselling and Guidance - WCPCG 2013

Culture Shock an obstacle for EFL learners

Renan Saylag

Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey

Abstract

Students from different countries are exposed to new cultural, social and intellectual experiences in a second language learning environment. Reviews of previous studies suggest that their beliefs, values and attitudes to knowledge can lead to 'culture shock.' In this study, theoretical concepts of culture shock and adaptation are reviewed in relation to the pedagogical adaptation of students in an unfamiliar culture. An interview with a sample of 38 Prep. School students, mainly from Azerbeijan, Syria and Iraq at Bahcesehir University were reviewed. The results showed that foreign students had some major difficulties adjusting to academic requirements, particularly with regard to managing the demands of the English as Foreign Language program (EFL). This is a qualitative study which specifically analyzes culture shock in respect to psychological perspectives stress, social identification and adaptation. The use of various indicators showed that foreign students manifested significantly higher degrees of stress, than did the local students. The recommendations of the study are that more academic and counseling support and resources should be provided for this increasing intake of foreign students.

© 2013 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review underresponsibilityof Academic World EducationandResearchCenter. Keywords: Culture shock, students, prep school, foreign students

1. Introduction

Foreign students are confronted by several difficulties and problems while living in a foreign culture, such as language problems, accommodation difficulties, misunderstandings and loneliness since they cannot master the social conventions of the society and are unaware of the rules of social behavior that underline interpersonal conduct, which eventually give rise to culture shock ( Furnham and Bochner,1986). For most people, culture shock is a strange event, which is not only undefined, is little understood and is also unpredictable. It is a time of psychological upset, readjustment and stress and demands that people process many powerful emotions, both positive and negative, perhaps for the first time in their lives. The transition from one culture to another not only presents an unfamiliar set of variables and experiences, it can result in significant psychological stress and produce feelings of depression, anxiety and helplessness. Therefore, the new culture should be studied in as many aspects as possible prior to the actual physical acculturation process. Before entering a new cultural environment, it is very important for people to prepare as much beforehand as possible. As Ferraro so clearly explains, it is impossible to eliminate the stress of culture shock completely (Ferraro, 2006). For those people in a leadership, teaching or a helping profession, it is critical that they be sensitive to and aware of individuals who are in this process. They must also not make the assumption that everybody will undergo the process in an identical manner

Corresponding Author: Renan Saylag. Tel.: +00905322873816 E-mail address:renansaylag@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.742

or within the same time frame. Even vague and indistinct events may cause additional stress. The understanding of these events where possible may decrease stress and help resolve negative emotions. Prediction plays an important part in the reduction of stress and psychological disorientation and so where possible, structure, definition, routines and clarity of purpose and responsibilities should be used as positive aids in supporting the acculturation process (Lafreniere&Cramer, 2005). Therefore, facing stress with the right attitude and transforming negative emotion into positive motivation may help people remain psychologically healthy and help minimize culture shock.

If depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness accumulate, the degree and extent of psychological disorientation can be so deep that people may have difficulty in focusing on learning and understanding the new cultures. When people fail to positively deal with the symptoms of culture shock, they are likely to become hostile to host nationals, preventing the development of new interpersonal relationships and denying themselves the very kind of support they so urgently need. Studies have shown that thorough, detailed preparation can improve a person's ability to adjust to new surroundings and make them become more self-confident (Cushner, 1994). Being familiar with a new culture may be considered as another solution in reducing the negative impact of culture shock on an individual. Through the familiarity with the new culture, people can imagine many possible obstacles they will encounter and at least psychologically, become better mentally prepared for the acculturation process (Ferraro, 2006).

Self-confidence and self-efficacy can play a key role in decreasing anxiety and overcoming obstacles. People with high self-efficacy usually believe that they have abilities to perform tasks well. Lack of confidence is one of the most important reasons for failure. Although different people use various techniques to try to minimize the impact of culture shock, it seems that a high degree of self-confidence and optimism may be among the most effective. However, as Aronson and others have indicated, dealing with many people undergoing a cultural transition can be difficult since people's personalities are diverse. Many people are optimistic and self-confident naturally, but others may be less so and in fact may have a more pessimistic view of life (Aronson et al, 2005). Thus, moderate self-confidence and an optimistic mood are necessary to help people deal with culture shock. What should always be emphasized in supporting people through this process is that it is a normal stage of cultural adjustment rather than threat, and should be seen and dealt with as a new challenge.

2. Social Identification and Intercultural Adaptation and Adjustment

Without some form of social identification, it is highly improbable that an individual using a second language will successfully make a cultural transition. When people identify with a particular group, many personal changes take place; the mental health status of the individual improves and there is an increase in the sense of personal competence. Lafreniere & Cramer(2005) state that seeking social support is also regarded as an effective tool during helping people reduce their stress level, which means people receive consolation, caring, encouragement, advice, approval and help from others around them. People who live in cultures that stress interdependence suffer less from psychological stress than people who live in cultures that emphasize independence.

Intercultural awareness helps individuals to understand the target culture and adjust the new environment. There are various factors in the identification of intercultural adjustment. Studies in psychology have identified a wide range of variables such as knowledge, language proficiency, attitudes, and previous experiences, levels of ethnocentrism, social support, cultural similarity, adventure, and self-controls as all playing a significant role at one time or another (Bennett, 1993, p. 43). Among these, three factors have consistently emerged as leading contributors to adjustment: knowledge of host and home culture, ethnocentrism, and language proficiency. However, there is such a term as being "culture bound," where a person simply tries to reject or ignore the new culture, where there is an inability to understand differences or accept an alternative point of view. This in turn contributes to them creating a hierarchy of cultures with their own being supreme. Ethnocentricity limits the self, hence individuals have to look at themselves from a different perspective to surmount such limitations. Thus it

can be argued that culture classes are vital in enabling individuals to see themselves from a different point of view (Matsumoto, 1999).

In the field of pedagogy, it has long been recognized that there is a need for flexible and negotiable learning objectives; the addressing of lack of background knowledge; and the inclusion of students' experiences as resources for learning. Pedagogical issues have included the recognition of diverse backgrounds and experiences, background knowledge, academic values and styles, and approaches to learning and knowledge. This also has included sensitivity in language use, avoiding excluding language and references (such as references to localized issues or organizations, acronyms and jokes) and the need to invite and value different perspectives in carefully constructed, whole group discussions. This involves providing training and 'scaffolding' in assessment types, by allowing students to use their own background knowledge and experience and a recognition of different modes of expression and approaches to learning. Some teachers of EFL were also aware that their own perceptions of a student's ability were influenced by cultural assumptions, and that students were often being assessed for their mastery of academic discourse rather than for critical or original thinking.

Break downs in communication are largely the result of mistaken assignment of meaning. Some of the most perplexing cross-cultural misunderstandings can occur when two people's patterns exhibit overt similarity and in fact have a significant number of identical forms and meanings, yet differ on more subtle levels.

3. The Study

Currently most of the foreign students in Turkey learning English as a foreign language suffer from some cultural differences. The curriculum is adopted according to a 24 hour, A1 level weekly program. This study tries to ascertain whether the students are suffering from culture shock and in the acculturation process: what feelings they might have and what are their expectations from the host culture and the educational institution. This study has some limitations due to the fact that some aspects of culture shock in specific cases may appear to resemble certain clinical aspects of a psychological nature. In line with the exploratory nature of this study, it concentrates on the following research questions:

RQ1: How do foreign students in Turkey typically perceive and experience the host country's culture?

RQ2: What are the most common cultural difficulties that EFL students facing?

4. Method and Procedure

The sample used for this study consists of 66% men and 34% women, 96% of whom fall into the age group of 18 to 25 years. The sample includes different age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and different academic majors. The data collection instruments used were Part A section of Culture Shock Questionnaire of (Mumford, 1998) to determine whether they are experiencing culture shock. A second instrument comprised three open-ended interview questions designed to ascertain a student's feelings towards the host culture, examples of their social support from peers, teachers and the institution. A final question was designed to access information regarding their expectations from the host culture.

Students first filled in the questionnaire and then were presented with the open-ended interview questions. A total of 15 minutes was allocated for all of the procedures. Students provided the answers on their own. To ensure the validity of study before students answered the questions, the psychological support department was consulted to make it sure none of the students had been suffering from some identifiable psychological issues other than the process of culture shock itself. The questions were given to the students in their mother tongue as most of them were not advanced learners of English and it was their first month in Turkey.

5. Results

The results of Culture Shock Questionnaire of (Mumford, 1998) show that students were suffering from some syndromes of culture shock which are given below:

73% of the students feel strain from the effort to adapt to a new culture most of the time.

86% admitted to missing family and friends in their home country most of the time.

55% don't feel generally accepted by the local people in the new culture.

73% expressed a desire to escape from his or her new environment altogether.

64 % were confused about their role or identity in the new culture.

62 % found things in their new environment shocking or disgusting.

78% felt helpless or powerless when trying to cope with the new culture The students' answer to the first interview question showed that 25 of them didn't feel confident either in or out of the classroom. 4 of them thought that their friends insulted them because they felt that they were from less developed countries. One Russian female student said that she didn't feel comfortable in the class and felt that the rest of the students were looking disdainfully at her clothes. She said her classmates are too pushy and they didn't leave her alone in the breaks. She said Moscow was more beautiful than Turkey and there was nothing in Istanbul. The answers to the second interview question demonstrated that students were not happy with the support they had been receiving. 29 of them claimed that the school did nothing for them, that the teachers always spoke English and that they had no idea of the foreign students' cultures. 23 Arab students claimed that teachers didn't chat with them during the breaks. The answers to the third interview question indicate that 3 Persian (Iranian?) students thought that there were no parties and no social life in Turkey. They wrote that there were a lot of parties and fun in Iran. Turkey was too boring. They said they needed more fun. 22 students said that they needed detailed orientation about Turkish culture and would like school trips conducted with two teachers one from their own culture and the other Turkish. 28 students wanted teachers from their own cultures. 7 students wanted the school manual book in their own language. 9 of them said that they knew nothing about English, and it shocked them someone speaking with them in English in the class just the first day of school.

6. Discussion

Teachers should be able to develop in their students an intercultural competence which will enable them to interact with people of different cultural backgrounds. Teaching intercultural competence involves understanding and then dealing with the attitudes, emotions, beliefs and values of each individual. According to Winkelman (1994), decrease of cultural shock involves adjustments based on awareness of the cultural shock experience, on the development of conflict resolution skills, and on the acceptance of some personal change and behavioral adjustment.

Furnham&Bochner (1986) have developed what they call the ABC model of integration. It involves the keeping of a personal journal whereby the person experiencing culture shock can freely express their feelings and emotions which have already indicated can be a cause of serious stress where such an avenue does not exist. McKinlay et al. (1996) have recommended that higher education institutions could improve the well-being of international students by means of a more comprehensive approach in addressing issues of acculturation. Some of these suggestions are a more sophisticated analysis of the problems and needs of individual international students, relevant to the local higher education environment; the development of coherent management strategies to support international students; a support system that would address student needs all year round; a support system that reaches those who do not participate in initial orientation programmes; the development of good documentation of the support system, so that international students know where to go for help and advice, and the provision of accurate information about the host environment; and less emphasis on the integration of international students, who will remain in a host country for a relatively short time, and an encouragement to maintain. It should be reiterated that language teaching is culture teaching, and someone involved in teaching language is also involved in teaching culture at the same time. Language does not exist in a vacuum, so language

learners should be aware of the context in which the target language is used i.e., they should also learn about the target culture. In this respect, Crystal (1997) captures this concept well in stating that "Language has no independent existence: it exists only in the brains and mouths and ears and hands and eyes of its user."

By putting ideas, events, documents from two or more cultures side by side and seeing how each might look from the other's perspective, intercultural speakers/mediators can see how people might misunderstand what is said or written or done by someone with a different social identity. The skills of comparison, of interpreting and relating, are therefore crucial. An EFL teacher must possess these skills and also the ability to interpret a document or event from another culture, to explain it and relate it to documents or events from their own. It is equally important to acquire the skills of finding out new knowledge and integrating it with what they already have. Intercultural speakers/educators need skills of discovery and interaction. Simulations and role-play should be part and parcel of their education portfolio together with background knowledge about other countries and cultures. In the classroom students act the role of visitors to their own country and meet with other learners acting as themselves and not as the stereotypes that the visitors typically expect. This kind of experiential learning is powerful in developing self-awareness of as well as perceptions of other countries. Students have an immediate and non-threatening experiences of intimate communication with other intercultural speakers, learn to tolerate the differences and handle the everyday situations they are likely to encounter in a foreign country. Once people are able to accept them, they will be more comfortable with their environment and able to minimize psychological stress. It should also be noted that not all parts of a different culture can or should be accepted. This is a normal phenomenon. Under this condition, tolerance and keeping an open mind regarding the local culture may be easier to perform than willing acceptance. Help from a host-national network is important because through it foreign students can learn the social skills of their host culture. The teacher's role in all of this is twofold: to structure the learning experience, to ensure that the 'culture shock' is productive and positive, and not overwhelming and negative, and to help learners to analyze and learn from their responses to a new environment: and to provide a supportive environment with maximum use of external resources.

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