Module Six : Cultural Adjustment & Emotional Intelligence

Click HERE to go to the beginning of the Student Workbook

In the first five modules, we have examined cultural differences and commonalties. Now, in this module, we discover what happens when people move from one country to another. In the first part of the module, you will learn to :

RECOGNIZE the stages of adjusting to a new culture or a new situation.

In the second part of the module you will :

DEVELOP strategies for dealing with emotions

You will also practice:


  • how to self reflect
  • how to predict
  • how to visualize
  • how to synthesize


Introduction to Module Six

Focus Activity

Think about when you moved from one place or situation to a new one. What kinds of feelings did you have? Were you scared, excited, nervous, or hopeful?

What kinds of thoughts did you have before you moved? Did you “dream” about how things would be? Did you plan to do well?

What happened when you actually moved? Did you go through a time when you didn’t do as well as you thought you would? Do you remember when you began to feel better?

Do think that you went through specific stages as you adjusted to the new situation? If so, what were they?

Let’s read some letters that Katie wrote to her grandmother in Korea when she first moved to the U.S.A. to study.

Katie: Republic of Korea

Katie stretched her long legs under the student desk and leaned back in the straight chair in her dorm room. She closed her eyes and remembered leaning on the concrete double sink in their apartment in Seoul watching Grandmother transplant a yellow kukwa (chrysanthemum) from one pot to another. She breathes deeply and smells the water in the soil and sees again the sun on her grandmother’s wrinkled hands as Grandmother’s words ring in her ears.

Granddaughter. When I was a young girl and came to Seoul from Daejun, I was like this flower, young and strong. But when I moved to Seoul, like a transplanted flower, I felt weak and confused. You, too, will pass through this time in America. You must be strong and remember your roots. Remember to treat yourself well during the time of transplantation.

Then Katie’s mind raced back to Seoul’s airport where she, fighting back tears, is saying goodbye to her grandmother, family, and friends, when one of her bulging suitcases pops open, spilling clothes and foodstuff all over the floor. Everyone scrambles as airline officials begin hustling people on board. Katie straightens up and brings her mind back to the task at hand. She picks up a pen to begin the letter. Memories of the last two weeks roll through her mind like a montage:

Seeing the skyline of the city for the first time. Moving her suitcases into the university dorm room. Walking across campus with the sun shining one moment then a sudden autumn shower and the nice American student sharing his umbrella with her. And the ever-present air conditioning chilling every room.

September 6 

Dear Grandmother :
I’m not like your transplanted flower after all. I love it in America and everyone is wonderful with me. I have a really nice roommate, Buki, who is from Venezuela and has been here for three years already. She is very kind and helpful to me. We share many things. We often sit up late at night talking. She introduces me to her friends and teaches me how to work all the marvelous machines here in America. Oh Grandmother , Americans do everything with machines. And they are so friendly – they smile at you even when they don’t know you. Strangers at bus stops talk to one another about personal things like what you’ re studying or what year you are in school. I like my classes very much—especially my cross-cultural communication class.

In that class my classmates are from all over the world. There is Buki from Venezuela, Eric from Taiwan, Mazen from Syria, Jama from Somalia and Americans. Buki and I have lunch together and practice our English every day. And Josh, an American boy in the class, sometimes eats with us and helps us. My cross-cultural teacher , Dr . Archer , is very nice and always helps us and gives us advice. And this is a most beautiful city with lots of new things to try out and places to visit. And everything is so modern and new—so unlike Korea with its centuries of traditions that we keep just as our father s and grandfathers did. So you see Grandmother, I am a strong flower and have no problems in being transplanted.
Your granddaughter ,

Time passes

Katie sits looking out a window. People walking by are reflected in the glass. A tear rolls down her cheek. She sighs and picks up a pen to write. In Seoul, Grandmother sits by a window, where the flower that she transplanted is looking a bit bedraggled. The leaves are yellow and the blossoms are brown around the edges.

September 30 

Dear Grandmother :
Oh dear , I have spoken too hastily. Buki says that what I have is called “culture shock.” AllI know is that my heart is breaking. I think of you and Mother and my friends all the time. I’m always looking at my watch and counting on my fingers to see what time it is back in Korea and imagining what you and Mother and Father are doing at that very moment. I feel like I’m living with one foot in America and the other foot in Korea. I always carry the photo of all of us in Han River Park tucked in my book. Even in class, my mind is back in Korea. I was so embarrassed yesterday when the teacher caught me writing a letter to Mother during class. It seems that things got worse right after I wrote the last letter .

Buki and Josh are now too busy with their other classes to spend much time with us— every bodyis so busy. I live for letters from home. I rush to the mailbox immediately after class and my heart breaks if it is empty but my whole evening is golden if I find that brown air mail envelope inside. I keep all the letters and ead them over and over again. And I’m losing weight—the food here has no taste. How I would love to have some of your bi-bim-bab (vegetables and rice) right now. And I’m sleeping much more; I can’t seem to get started. And I’m worried about my studies. Grandmother , I just can’t seem to concentrate.

In Korea I could easily study for 4 or 5 hours straight, but he e I read a sentence and then my mind just wanders off and I have to start over again and again. I just have no desire to go anywhere or do anything. Time just pushes me here and there and my money is going so fast. Everything costs money here! I’m so surprised at how much everything costs. There are so many things to learn—not just English language but how to take the bus, how to wash clothes, and a thousand other things and I make so many mistakes. I don’ t know if I’ll ever be able to live here comfortably.
I miss you so much.


Time passes

Grandmother is at the door waiting for the postman. He approaches and says,
“Hello, An-nyung ha se yo”.
“Hello. Do you have any letters for me?”
He laughs,
“Yes, here it is.”
Grandmother takes the letter in her wrinkled, old hands. The transplanted flower behind her has now recuperated somewhat.

October 14 

My Dear Grandmother :
I am feeling much better than I did in my last letter to you. One thing that helped a lot was that one night Buki and I sat and talked for a long time and I told her how I felt. She told me that she went through the same thing and that I was just fine. She suggested that I do some physical exercise and make an effort to get out and meet people. And now in class, Dr. Archer is teaching us a lot about American culture and I’m beginning to understand a little about why they act the way they do. And I guess time helps. One day, it just seemed like I was better . I still miss you and everyone else but I feel like I ‘m going to be o.k. now. People know me and I know quite a few people also. I feel like the university is home now and I can study better, though still not as good as in Korea but Buki says that will come later. And even though I don’t know everything about American life, I know some things and now I know how to learn more.
Your happier granddaughter ,


Time passes

Katie, looking at a calendar, marks off September and October. She sighs, takes a pen and begins to write.

November 20 

Honorable Grandmother :
I’m afraid I made a serious mistake in coming here. After all back home, I had a good job and now everyone will be ahead of me. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember , now why I thought it would be so great to come to America to study. And the Americans, now that I know them better , I discover that I don’t like them very much at all. In fact, the longer I am here the more proud I am to be Korean. It’s easier to be with other Koreans. We understand one another . The other Koreans told me I was just a baby chick and would soon find out about the Americans. And they were right—they are only interested in themselves and in making money. They are very impolite. I even see boys and girls entwined in one another ‘s arms in public. And they’re not as advanced as we have been told. The professors don’t know how to teach at all. They’re more interested in being our friends than in teaching.
Although, sometimes, I wonder what I’m missing.
Your disappointed granddaughter ,

As Katie walks to the post office, she is approached by an obviously new, obviously lost American student.

” Excuse me. Could you tell me where the dorm office is?”
Katie hesitates a moment, then looks at her face and smiles.
” Sure. It’s over there. Listen, it’s on my way. I’ll walk with you. Are you a new student?”The two girls walk away, the new student relieved and smiling.

Time passes

January 9 

Dear Grandmother :
The new semester has started. I’m in the same dorm room and am very happy that Buki and I are roommates again. I’m also helping new students to adjust. I give them a tour of the campus and show them which books to buy. It seems strange to think that only a few months ago I was like them. I feel like I have come very far in a short time. Last night I cooked Korean food for some of my old classmates— Mubeen, Josh and Mazen . I think that we will always have a special relationship with one another. I think, Grandmother, that I have finally arrived in Amer ica. I have not lost my Korean roots. In fact, they’re stronger than ever. Respectfully, your granddaughter ,


Grandmother takes off her glasses, folds the letter, and puts it back into the envelope. She then places the envelope under the flower pot—a flower pot filled with huge blossoms, resplendent in the sunlight.


Have you had experiences similar to Katie’s?
What kinds of advice did people give you before you made a change sometime in your life? Share your answers on culture bump forum


A Reading on


When someone leaves his or her country and goes to live in a new one, that person is like a flower being transplanted. And just as the flower needs special care and time to adjust to the new flowerpot, so does the foreigner in a new land. It is during this time that the individual has strong reactions to what L. Robert Kohls calls “the psychological disorientation” in his book, Survival Kit for Over seas Living. He or she can experience intense discomfort, irritability, bitterness,resentment, homesickness, depression, or physical illness. While everyone has a cultural adjustment period, not everyone experiences it to the same degree.Some people have a much more pronounced adjustment period. The adjustment cycle forms a W curve with a high point at the beginning, and then a sinking followed by another high point, then a second low point and finally a high that signals adjustment to the new culture. In the previous story, we can trace Katie’s adjustment through her letters to her grandmother. The first one reflects her excitement at being in America. The second chronicles her descent into culture shock. The third shows her initial adjustment and the fourth expresses her mental isolation. By the fifth letter, she has begun to be fully integrated into the society and, like Grandmother’s flower, is blossoming.

Culture Shock

Kohls cautions that culture shock should not be confused with frustration, which has a specific cause. These specific causes are culture bumps. While culture bumps contribute to culture shock, culture shock is a general condition which comes from being in an environment which threatens your total belief system—e.g. moving from a staircase to a roller coaster culture. It is cumulative and builds up slowly (Kohls, 1979).* Kohls says that culture shock results from being cut off from cultural cues, especially those subtle, indirect ways you have for expressing feelings. It comes from living and working in ambiguity, from having your own values brought into question, from being put in a situation in which you are expected to perform at maximum speed and efficiency but in which the rules have not been adequately explained. This is perhaps, best expressed by Kalvero Oberg,the man who first diagnosed culture shock. These signs and clues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life:when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, when and how to make purchases, when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and and when not…(Kohls 1979).

The Adjustment Process in a New Culture

The W curve of the adjustment process can be diagrammed as follows: A similar process occurs when the individual returns to his or her own culture.

Some Characteristics of Each of the Stages


  1. Feelings of a dream come true
  2. Everything is new and exciting—a new adventure
  3. Frequently, people help the “new arrival” out



  • 1. Physical
  • a. Stomach and bowel upset
  • b. Tiredness, inability to concentrate
  • c. Change in sleep patterns; sleep more or less than back home
  • d. Change in eating habits—no appetite, or eating more than usual.


  • 2. Psychological
  • a. Thinking of what people back home are doing at this hour; living with a foot in each culture
  • b. Extreme homesickness; grief
  • c. Fear of being able to succeed, to perform
  • d. Dreaming each night of “back home” and waking to the new culture with disappointment.



  1. Feeling of hopefulness, ability to perform well
  2. Recognition that one has a “role”, a place in the new culture
  3. Although still missing “back home,” feeling somewhat “connected” to people in new culture
  4. Feelings of relief and new self-confidence



  1. Feelings of disdain and anger against the host culture
  2. Feelings of self-doubt and worry that people back home are passing one by
  3. Resentment over loss of status
  4. Disappointment in oneself and/or the host culture



  1. Stop trying to change host culture or making constant comparison to one’s own culture
  2. Develop strategies for living day to day



  1. Sudden awareness of leaving host country “forever”
  2. Sadness at leaving friends
  3. Fear of ability to “fit back in” one’s home country



  1. Same as culture shock with the difference that there is a feeling of alienation since there is no one back home with whom one can share these feelings.
  2. Also a feeling of betrayal since these feelings are unexpected in one’s “native culture.” Usually feelings of anger toward oneself and/or one’s culture.



  1. Occurs when one has found a way to validate one’s overseas experience.


* Kohls, L. R. (1979) Survival Kit for Overseas Living. Intercultural Press, Inc.: Chicago, Ill.


A Group Activity : SYMBOLS OF CHANGE

In small groups, first, draw a symbol for one of the stages of adjustment, as instructed. Then in your groups, answer the following questions about your stage.

How did Katie feel during this stage?
What are some things that she did to help herself during this time?
What are some suggestions you can think of that would be helpful during this stage?


A Reading on EMOTIONS

      In the previous activity, you may have had a problem being able to decide exactly what Katie was feeling. It is sometimes hard to understand emotions. We can begin by defining exactly what an emotion is. An emotion is a feeling that is accompanied by thoughts and physical reactions. These thoughts and physical reactions may be conscious or unconscious. The truth is that much of the time, we are unaware of our emotions, but we “react” to them anyhow. While emotions are important in all areas of life, in cross-cultural communication, emotions play a very big role in how perceptions are formed. We have already realized that our perceptions influence how well we can form relationships with individuals who are different from ourselves. Therefore, in successful cross-cultural communication, we need to have knowledge about our own and other people’s values and behaviors. But we also need to be “emotionally intelligent”. What is “emotional intelligence?”

One definition is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

(Mayer & Salovey 1993:433)

       The first step in emotional intelligence is to be able to recognize and give a name to your own emotions. In other words, to be able to know what you are feeling when you are feeling it. Sometimes in the middle of a culture bump, you may not be aware of your feelings. But, afterwards, as you begin to analyze the culture bump, you can recall the many emotions you felt and name them. This will help you to “unhook” from the incident. And the “unhooking” will help you to dissolve any stereotypes you may have been forming about that individual. Secondly, emotional intelligence involves being able to empathize with other people’s emotional response to situations as well as see things from their point of view. Many of the activities in the previous modules have been practice in seeing life from the point of view of other people.

      Together these two things help you to manage your response to your emotions. In particular, they help you to respond to “negative” ones such as sadness, fear or anger—in a way that does not hurt yourself or other people.

       In fact, as you become more adept at managing your response to emotions, you will be able to have authentic relationships with people with whom you have had a strong emotional reaction. This is very important in cross-cultural communication since many times our response to people who are different is to “feel” that they are inferior or that they are “superior”. Another typical feeling is fear or sadness, which is “covered” with anger or indifference.

        Below is an Emotional Intelligence Quiz designed to help you determine how well you can identify emotions that you feel and that other people feel. The purpose is not to have the “RIGHT” answer but to find a variety of answers. In order to help you to do this, here are clusters of emotions with their nuances. These are only a few of the hundreds and hundreds of emotions.

Mayer, J.D. & Salovey, P. (1993) The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence, 17 (4), 433-442.



ANGER Fury, resentment,exasperation, indignation,irritability, annoyance,hatred
SADNESS Grief, sorrow,melancholy, self-pity,dejection, despair
FEAR Anxiety, nervous,concern, wariness, panic,terror
ENJOYMENT Happy, joy, relief,contentment, delight,satisfied, euphoria
LOVE Acceptance, trust,kindness, connectedness,adoration, infatuation
SURPRISE Shock, astonishment,amazement, wonder
DISGUST Contempt, disdain, scorn,aversion distaste
SHAME Guilt, embarrassment,chagrin remorse,humiliation, regret,mortification


View the emotions: watch this video


Based on a list of emotions by Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence. New York,New York: Bantam



Look at the pictures. In the first column, list your feelings as you look at a picture. In the second column, list the feelings that you think the person in the picture is feeling. Choose words from the word families. When you finish looking at each of the pictures, return to the photo that you liked the most. Look at it for a few minutes. Then share your answers with as many of your classmates as possible.



                                                                                                  Photo A

Photo B

              Photo C










Photo D

                                                        Photo E

                                                                                                                   Photo F


Photo G

                                                                                                                 Photo H

Photo I


                                                                                                                    Photo J



When I see this, I feel:
I think he/she, they feel:

How many emotions were you able to identify? Give yourself one point for each emotion. Compare your answers and scores with your classmates or on culture bump blog.


Discuss these questions: What do you do when you feel:

  • Angry?
  • Shy?
  • Afraid?
  • Happy?


Do you think there are some other ways to deal with your emotions?



Write a letter to a friend back home (or who has not yet had your experience) and tell him/her what to expect. Give them any advice you can about going through the experience more easily.

Phoebe the Culture Bump Cat says – Congratulations!!! You have now completed the sixth stage of your journey.

You have learned about the cultural adjustment cycle and about emotions. You have practiced self-reflection, prediction, visualization and synthesis.


In this final reflection, you have the opportunity to review the skills and knowledge you have acquired throughout this journey across cultures. Re-examine the final two conversations between Brian and Aziz. List five differences in their interactions. Pay close attention to the moments immediately after Brian stands up. What do they say that is different? Why do you think he decides to stay the second time? Which of the following skills did Aziz and Brian have to activate in order to change their interactions?

Identify and describe ” culture bumps” Describing what you and others do in any situation Finding universal characteristics Recognizing and managing emotions With others in your group, discuss how you can practice these differences in your own interactions with individuals who are different from yourself. With the completion of these modules, you have acquired conscious knowledge of basic skills that will allow you to really begin to learn about other cultures. You have built your foundation for a lifetime of cultural journeys.


Good Bye


In Memory of

Mary Elizabeth Archer

1934 – 2002

“Hope lives on sweet sister”