Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock

Here is a paper sent to us by Dr. Mike Leming, Professor of Sociology at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and grand poobah of the Semester in Thailand program. This paper was written by one of his students, and explores the idea of "reverse culture shock".

If you want to learn more about the Spring Semester in Thailand program, you can check out their website or email Dr. Leming for more information. He will be happy to work with you to go on this trip. If he doesn't answer immediately, he may be in the jungle somewhere, and they tend to have terrible Wi-Fi.

Here's the paper, entitled "Reverse Culture Shock: Feeling Foreign at Home." by Carolyn Vermazen. I know it's a little long, but it's worth the read.

“You can go home again… so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.”                                -Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed

            Reverse culture shock is a very valid sociological concept.  “Reverse culture shock is real, it affects every returning sojourner to some degree, and it usually goes unrecognized” (Wang 1997).  Although it may not seem to be a very scholarly sociological topic, it is very relevant and has greatly affected not only my life, but the lives of countless other “homeless” people throughout the world.

            I am not homeless in the sense that most people understand.  I have a shelter over my head, a warm bed to sleep in at night, and am provided with an abundance of food.  However, I feel very lost and exposed in the place that I am supposed to call “home.”  After one spends a significant amount of time immersed in another culture, with little contact from one’s native environment, it is never easy to find “home” again.  Never really apart of one’s host country, and yet forever changed by their experiences and new views on the world, can one ever really be a part of their native country again?

          In Sociological terms, culture shock could be defined as being thrown into anomie and forced to resocialize within a foreign culture.  When a person is stripped of everything they ever knew to be “normal” in society they are in complete anomie, and although the traveler will probably expect some differences, they can never imagine all the possible differences they may find.  Even the things most taken for granted in a home country cannot be expected to even exist in a new environment.  Simple things back home, like making one’s favorite food, may become impossible in a foreign country where the ingredients may or may not exist.  “Norms, values, and beliefs vary from culture to culture, just as language does.  These differences can often result in travelers feeling a sense of ‘culture shock’” (McIntyre 1999).  However severe and disturbing culture shock may be, it is usually not a complete surprise to travelers as they know they often expect to be faced with changes, new things, and diverse, difficult emotions.  As an added incentive, sojourners often tell themselves that no matter how disturbing the new culture is that they will always be able to return home and feel “normal” again.  Little do they know that from the very first moment that they begin to accept the new culture, they are changing and “home” as they knew it is some place they can never go again.

Throughout one’s immersion in another culture, the sojourner begins to resocialize themselves in a way that is conducive to their new living environment.  This process is also knows as “acculturation,” which means
“The adaptation by an ethnic group (or in this case an individual) of the cultural patterns of the dominant or majority group.  Such acculturation encompasses not only external cultural traits, such as dress and language, but also internal ones, such as beliefs and values” (Borgatta & Montgomery, 2000). 
In order for sojourners to survive happily in  their new environment, they must put aside their preconceived notions of culture and make themselves open to the new  culture resocialize themselves to the new environment.  “Socialization is the process by which people acquire cultural competency and through which society perpetuates the fundamental nature of existing social structures” (McIntyre, 1999).   Without even realizing what is happening to them, sojourners slowly lose parts of their old identity as they take on new roles in their new society. 

            After I graduated from high school, I spent one full year in France as a foreign exchange student.  I fully expected to experience culture shock, and I did.  The big differences, such as language, weren’t the hardest part to deal with.  It was the simple, everyday things that I took for granted in my home in Iowa that I missed.  Some of the more difficult obstacles to deal with were simple things such as toilet paper, which was all pink and in individual squares, their milk that was so pasteurized that it did not need to be kept cold and could be kept for up to four months without spoiling,  most notably the incredibly tiny cars that everyone drove at even more incredible velocity. 

            Slowly, throughout my year in France, things stopped seeming weird and I even started to forget about what I thought to be weird in the first place.  I took on new roles and wasn’t simply “the American,” but I was a classmate, a member of the chorus, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.  As I became more fluent in the French language, so did I become fluent in the French culture.  I began to laugh at jokes which would never be funny in the U.S. and I really felt “French” when I was able to tell these sorts of jokes and make French people laugh.  Personality is something one can take for granted until it is stripped away by the inability to relate to others.  Without working with the norms and values of a certain society, one cannot be a part of it and will always feel like an outsider.

            As my departure date approached, I felt good about my adaptation to France and it’s culture.  I was quite proud of my having learned a new language and my becoming “French.”  However sad I was to be leaving France and my new friends, language and culture, I was also looking forward to going home again where things were “normal.”  So as I said goodbye to my French family and boarded the plane to go home, I was filled with mixed emotions of sadness and excitement, but was looking forward to this transition being easier than the one I had made eleven months earlier when I came to France.
Probably the hardest part of reverse culture shock is that it is usually a complete surprise as one does not anticipate to feel culture shock in their native culture.  I was very much unprepared for what awaited me at the other side of the Atlantic.  “When sojourners who are returning from a culture that is generally assumed to be not very different from the home culture… reentry problems are not anticipated and will not be identified as such, and reverse culture shock may be especially severe”  (Wang 1997).  This was very much the case for me, as I had no idea the extent to which I would feel “foreign” back home.

Yes it's a recycled image, but it seemed relevant.
         Probably the hardest part of reverse culture shock is that it is usually a complete surprise as one does not anticipate to feel culture shock in their native culture.  “When sojourners who are returning from a culture that is generally assumed to be not very different from the home culture… reentry problems are not anticipated and will not be identified as such, and reverse culture shock may be especially severe”  (Wang 1997). 

        Exchange students and other international travelers all experience reverse culture shock, and is not something that can quickly be dealt with and forgotten, but rather a lengthy process in which one must continually strive to rediscover and find a place for themselves in their native culture.  Reverse culture shock goes through four stages: euphoria and enthusiasm, disillusionment and negativism, gradual adaptation, and finally they will come to a stable place of bicultural competence (White). 

My initial reaction was one of joy when feet once again touched American soil.  I was overwhelmed by getting to experience things I had missed over the couse of the previous eleven months.  I was ravished to see my family and friends again, although at the same time I was scared that they might not like the new me, or that I might not like the new them.  I was thrilled to get to to eat my old favorite foods, although they didn’t taste as good as I’d remembered.  Along with each excitement came a draw back, a fear that I was doing something wrong or the suspicion that everything had changed while I was away.  I managed to laugh at myself the first few times I made cultural mistakes, such as when I would accidentally respond to questions in French instead of in English, or when I was surprised at the enormity of the junk food selection in the grocery stores, or when people made fun of me for “looking French.”  My friends and family too, thought it was cute the first few times I was surprised by things that are blatantly American, such as my astonishment at the incredible size of vehicles in the airport parking lot, or that road signs in the US are green, not blue, or that in US culture one doesn’t ask “Ma’am, could you please tell me where the toilet is, please?”  But as these seemingly innocent violations of American culture occurred unceasingly throughout the first few weeks of my return I became very frustrated and hostile towards the American culture.  Without my knowing it, I had been completely resocialized in France and didn’t know how to act “American” anymore.

             Slowly, I forced myself to resocialize once again.  I suppressed my new habits in favor of ones that were more culturally sensitive in America.  After continually searching for phrases in English that I hadn’t used in months, they began to come to me more quickly, and I once again was able to communicate.  What made this resocialization process harder than originally “becoming French,” were the expectations of friends, family, as well as myself that I should know how to be American and it was silly of me to act differently.  Nonetheless, I did feel strange, had trouble speaking English, and often felt out of place.  Something just made more sense in French than in English and I initially rejected readapting to American culture.  I liked who I had become in France, someone who was confident, a world traveler and uniquely independent.  Overtime, I have adjusted and readapted to American culture, but I have not forgotten who I was in France.  Slowly and continually, I am going through this process of reverse culture shock, and although it’s affects are less severe than when I first returned home, I still have moments where I feel completely foreign at home.  I am hoping that with time I can finish out my goal from being a foreign exchange student, which was to not only become bilingual, but bicultural as well.

LeGuin, U. K.  (1974).  The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous UtopiaNew York, Harper & Row

McIntyre, L. J.  (1999).  The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in SociologyMountain     
          View, CA:Mayfield Publishing Company.

Wang, M.  (1997).  Reentry and reverse culture shock.  In R.W. Brislin and K.  Cushner    
          (Eds.), Improving Intercultural Interactions: Modules for Cross-Cultural Training    
          Programs.  (Vol. 2).  (pp. 109-128).  Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage.

White, D. (1991). “So you think you’re home again: Some thoughts for exchange students 
          returning “home”.”  Unpublished article distributed through Rotary International.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who Makes Better Parents?

Have you ever wondered who has the most behaved children? Is there one particular culture or group of people that just seems to get it? Apparently there is, and you'll never guess who the Wall Street Journal thinks it is.

At least arbitrary colony borders are easier to draw.

The tagline to the article reads as such:

While Americans fret over modern parenthood, the French are raising happy, well-behaved children without all the anxiety. Pamela Druckerman on the Gallic secrets for avoiding tantrums, teaching patience and saying 'non' with authority.

And with a title like "Why French Parents are Superior", you just know it's going to be worth the read. I mean seriously, of all the countries you might have expected to have more effective parenting strategies than most Americans (Canada, Germany, and Japan would have been on mine) France may not have been high on your list of  likely candidates.

Above: Not the French Parenting Strategy

Here's the link to the full article, which was originally posted in the Wall Street Journal on February 4, 2012.

Also, if you're really interested in what this blog has to say, Blogger does have a free iPhone and Android app. That way, you can stay updated even while...walking or something.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Digitizing Medicine?

We live in an increasingly digital world. And sometimes, it seems like there is no end to what can be dissolved physically in favor of its digital equivalent. Books, bank accounts, and newspapers are not dead physically, but are largely being dumped by the masses in favor of more efficient and convenient virtual versions.

But there are some things that seem to be resisting this trend, no? Like medicine, for one. Though medicinal technology has certainly progressed lightyears in the 20th century, it remains for the most part outside of the trending fad of moving everything into virtual spaces. Surgery, though now conducted with more refined tools, is still done in private rooms away from the public. You are still diagnosed and watched over by physical doctors and nurses, in tangible hospitals and clinics.

Though this may be true, there seems to be mounting pressure to the contrary. We've had robotic surgery for over a decade now, and it has proven very effective in certain fields at helping surgeons keep a steady hand or perform tricky operations that could endanger the patient if done incorrectly. But what about taking things a step further?

Eric Topol, and American cardiologist and medical researcher, recently wrote a book entitled The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare. In his book, he argues that the medicinal field desperately needs to come out of the "cocoon" that may be leaving it in danger of becoming obsolete and, he says, even harmful to the public.

But are his concerns relevant? His past exploits have shown that there is a market for his ideas. At CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2010 in Las Vegas, Topol presented several consumer medical devices, including a handheld ultrasound scanner. For those of you that are unaware, CES is not a place where doctors normally present. Topol also recently sat down with Wired magazine in for an interview to discuss some more of his ideas.

So what does this mean for us as sociologists or just students who want to stay informed with what is going on in our culture? Is this pressure for increasing digitization in the medicinal field just another step towards you being viewed as a consumer and nothing more, or is this a beneficial side effect of our digital age? Though there may be a dehumanizing effect to having your x-rays namelessly reviewed by a doctor in India and sent back, there is something nifty about being able to ultrasound yourself without having to pay to go to a doctor.

For example, what do you make of a man's open-heart surgery being live-tweeted by the doctors performing it, including video and pictures? Is this an educational experience, or does it reduce the man being operated on to a mere slab of meat to learn something from? This is a tricky situation, but I like to believe that there is a happy medium somewhere in there.

Also, I would sincerely like to apologize for the absurd number of links in this post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

May Term and New Orleans

Hello Sociology Students (and any others who might be viewing)!

Just wanted to let you know about some upcoming opportunities for and through the Sociology Department.

1. A few students have inquired about Sociology of Sport May Term. Dr. Vos is indeed teaching this class for May Term. If you are interested in taking this course, please email Dr. Vos at so he can get an idea of how many students are interested.

2. The Southern Sociological Society is holding their annual meeting this year in New Orleans! The meeting will be held in the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street from March 21-24.

If you are interested in going to this trip, please contact Dr. Vos or Dr. Chiareli for details!

Here's the link to the SSS website for more details about the meeting and other upcoming activities: 

And, as an added bonus, here's a Google maps image of the area the hotel is in, so you can get an idea of where we'll be staying.

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From Dealing Drugs to Running an NGO

Ten years ago Jon was selling drugs in Atlanta. He came out of the spin cycle of his life when he was in his early twenties. Then in 2010 he went on the Spring Semester in Thailand program and was baptized in the village with a bunch of Karen former drug addicts.

Many of you might remember Jon; he graduated from Covenant in 2010 and was a Sociology major. Last year he went back to serve the tribal people of Thailand. His energy and enthusiasm have been readily noted by Dr. Mike Leming: 

"I can't tell you what a blessing Jon has been to me in my life. He is able to do what I can no longer do. He is a person of faith and vision."

Jon has created his own Christian NGO and is self supporting.

Check out his photo journal

And his awesome newsletter! 

Interested in Social Media?

Are you interested in social networking as a phenomenon in today's world? Just want to know what the heck is going on? Well luckily for you there's a website for that! has a page devoted specifically to news and opinions about this kind of thing. While this may not be an "academic" source in the strictest sense, throwing in a reference to an article or two is always a good way to spice up a paper, as well as keep yourself informed. And uninformed is one thing that sociologists should not be.

Here's the link:

Monday, February 20, 2012

It is black history month, after all.

"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: ... How does it feel to be a problem? ... One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder ... He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face." - W.E.B. Du Bois, "Strivings of the Negro People", 1897

Lest we forget that white Germans and Americans are not the only sociological opinions worth listening too.

If you're interested in things like racial issues and the like, The Root is a good news agency to check out. Just to give you a different perspective on current issues. Here's a sample link to an article about Du Bois:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Covenant College Sociology Department is never caught unawares of popular internet culture.

"That's just the kind of department we are." -Dr. Vos

For the scant few of you who may be unaware of the Covenant College memes page, here is a link:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wow 2nd post in a day!

Do you believe in karma? No? Apparently you do. Here's another interesting article by Christian Smith on religious tolerance and whatnot.

Peter Berger Blog

Hey everybody! You guys should definitely check out this link. It's Peter Berger's blog, entitled "Religion and Other Curiosities".

He posts almost every week on some religion-related topic.