Today our focus will be on a re-entry shock or reverse culture shock. When people stay abroad for a long period of time they often experience a kind of shock or depression after they come back to their home countries. For our first category “absolutely integrated”, I had Kyle Hickman in the studio. You may remember him from shows 87 and 91. This time he told me how difficult it can be to adjust to the German culture even if your whole family has a German background.
Do you remember Kyle Hickmann, the American student who did an internship at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung? We had interviewed him about his experience coming from the warm California to the cold country Germany. The third person in our round is Professor Dr. Joachim Birzele, a lecturer from the RheinAhrCampus, Remagen, who did a research tour around various universities in the US and in Canada. During his trip he was very impressed by the warm welcome he received everywhere and by the fact that his overseas colleagues did not hesitate to invite him to their homes straight away without even knowing him. They also passed him on to fellow-researchers by giving him their addresses and recommending contact. This made academic networking much easier for Joachim. You may remember that in my last show I talked about so-called “coconut people” and “peach people”? Well, today we will meet this analogy again and in our category “absolutely integrated” Kyle and Joachim immediately agreed that these two types of people behave very differently. Kyle suggested that Americans may be more comfortable combining business with friendship.
Those who have lived abroad tell us that it is hard to adjust to a new culture because of little differences in spontaneous behavior – but how can it be difficult to go back to your own culture afterwards?
Imagine you leave your hometown, your work place or your university for a year and when you come back and you want to share all your new experiences with your friends – you notice that people are not quite as interested in your stories as you expected, or even worse, people did not even notice that you were away for a whole year?
Alice Wo is an Intercultural trainer who offers courses for students who face this situation after coming back from extended periods abroad. She helps them with the re-entry into their own culture and surroundings. Most people are prepared for a culture shock when they go out to a foreign country. But few are prepared for a similar shock when they come back home. When you spend a year in a different culture, you may adopt some customs that are unusual for your own home country. This readjustment process to the primary culture can affect people psychologically and even physically especially when they are unprepared for this.
People do, as a general rule, quickly adapt to their own culture again – but maybe if they were a little better prepared for this they would be less shocked or depressed upon their arrival home. After some stays in the US and in England I sometimes feel that the friendly openness is something which I miss when I get back home. I was in Florida over Christmas, where I certainly met a typical “peach-person”. We were waiting for a guided tour, my wife and I were standing around and suddenly a lady came to join the group of about 15 people. And instead of also standing a bit at the side and pretending the others were not there, she came straight to us, stretched out her hand and said: “Hi, my name is Linda”. Actually, we first thought she must be the guide but then she stayed with us and made small talk until the tour guide arrived. We were really surprised how quickly this networking machine enclosed us in her circle of friends and we soon discussed intimate topics such as “how much do you earn” which I would never even discuss with my close friends back home.
The next show will be coming to you on 13 November from Anne Fox in Denmark.
When we first got a mail about the University of the People I thought I had better just check and the more I investigated, the more I realised that I hadn’t been able to recognise this initiative for what it was because it is so unique and visionary. And as I have found several times, over the last 3 years, I realised that this was the product of one person’s strong vision to do what they can to overcome disadvantage and misunderstanding. So this show is mainly about Shai Reshef and the free tuition online university he has founded in order to make higher education accessible to anyone with a high school diploma. This is an offer open to anyone, anywhere in the world.
absolutely accessible The world needs educated people but universities are expensive. Shai Reshef, an Israeli entrepreneur, is trying to do something about this by harnessing the power of the Internet, social networking and Open Source educational materials to provide free tuition and low cost examinations through his University of the People. I asked him first to describe his background to see if there were any clues there as to why he had come up with this idea.
The tuition is free but there are still some costs which need to be covered. So we hear a little more about the costs of attending the University of the People and how it works in practice. There is a lot more about the university and how it operates if you go to their website.
absolute role model A few months back we had a request from Debbie Swallow in the UK of 4c International to suggest the names of some celebrities who could be deemed intercultural ambassadors. Well when I talked with Debbie about her main work a few weeks back I reminded her about her request and asked if any good suggestions had come forward. We should probably add Shai Reshef to that list now but at the time we talked, the University of the People had yet to open. So we’ll be hearing which other names cropped up.
Debbie originally left a comment on our blog so if you have any comments or suggestions you could tell us what you think at the bottom of this post. As I mentioned at the beginning, we found out about the University of the People when they sent us an email so that’s how the podcast works.
Even if we expect differences when we travel or meet foreigners in our own countries – the best and most intensive intercultural learning is always accompanied by small culture shocks. Our show today will focus on the Anna Lindh Foundation and in particular two young, influencial bloggers from Israel and Tunisia who I met in Luxemburg at the bloggers’ meeting, so our main topic will be the “culture of blogging”. We will also hear about an American exchange student at RheinAhrCampus and her stereotypes about Germany. Oh yes, and we will be talking about peaches and coconuts!
I met Erin from Texas and she told me about her experiences in Europe and why she suffered a culture shock or maybe several small shocks at the beginning. She noticed that we use very different street signs and traffic lights from the US and that we drive such tiny cars. But also, the everyday behaviour of people in the street struck her as rather different. When you meet Germans for the first time they don’t appear as friendly as Americans but once you have got to know them as friends it seems that you’ll never lose this friendship over time. Let us hear what emotions Erin had and how she confronted these confusing situations.
absolutely fruitful As you heard, it takes Germans a little longer to “open up” to foreigners, whereas in the US it seems much easier to get in contact with people. Some intercultural scholars describe this well-known phenomenon in a comparison with the fruits, peaches and coconuts. “Peach-people” are all nice soft, smiling, and sweet on the outside and it is easy to get in touch with them and have a pleasant, initial conversation but afterwards you may hit a hard kernel in the middle and this seems almost impossible to penetrate. These people may be very friendly when you meet them as complete strangers, for example on public transport, but would perhaps not dream of letting you into their inner circle of friends or invite you to their family homes.
On the other hand you have the “Coconut-people” who have their hard and sometimes unwelcoming shell on the outside. So when you meet them for the first time they seem unfriendly and reserved. However, once you have penetrated that hard shell you will find out that they are much softer and sweeter on the inside.
Often Germans experience Americans as “peaches” and Americans see Germans as “coconuts”.
absolutely half baked
Now I’d like to introduce you to Carmel Vaisman, a communication scholar from Israel who I met at the bloggers’ training in Luxemburg. Carmel is a passionate blogger, very busy sharing her very interesting experiences in Israel and abroad with others in the world. Most recently we heard about her “find Lost”-experiences in Hawaii.
I’ll present you another really astonishing young blogger Samar Samir Mezghanni from Tunisia. She has been writing children’s books since she was 10 years old – so at the time she was a child herself. What an interesting idea to publish children’s books written by other children who are barely older than themselves. This way Samar gained an entry into the Guinness book of world records as “Youngest Writer in the World” and two years later as “Youngest Most Prolific Writer in the World”. I had the privilege of meeting her in person and experiencing this bundle of energy. She told me about what kind of stories she writes about, what gave her the idea to write children’s books and how she became a blogger.
The next show will be coming to you on 16 October from Anne Fox in Denmark.