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Intercultural Interaction: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Intercultural Communication

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This is an extract from the book Intercultural Interaction: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Intercultural Communication by Helen Spencer-Oatey and Peter Franklin, published 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, reproduced with the permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

This extract looks at managing culture shock and stress and features WorldWork’s competency framework. We hope you find it interesting.

7.1.2 Managing Culture Shock and Stress

As we noted in Chapter 3, most frameworks that conceptualize ICIC identify a number of personal qualities that are helpful for managing culture shock and stress. Matsumoto and his colleagues (e.g., Matsumoto, Yoo and LeRoux 2007) have researched this empirically and propose, on the basis of their studies, that there are four key ingredients for the effective management of cultural stress and the promotion of personal growth. These are: emotion regulation, openness, flexibility and critical thinking. They argue that emotion regulation functions as a gatekeeper, because people have difficulty engaging in critical thinking and assimilating new cognitive schemas to aid adjustment unless they have first been able to control their emotions. The WorldWork framework (see Concept 3.7), in common with the Cross Cultural Adaptability Inventory, includes emotional strength as one of its foci. The WorldWork framework identifies three different elements: resilience, coping and spirit of adventure (See Concept 7.3). Resilience seems to correspond closely to Matsumoto and colleagues’ concept of emotion regulation. In the related competency of personal autonomy the WorldWork framework identifies inner purpose as a quality, which contributes to the management of culture shock and stress.

A number of researchers have explored the range of strategies that people use to cope with stress and thus put the quality of resilience into practice. Carver and his colleagues (1989) have identified 15 such strategies (Concept 7.4) and these have been used in a few cross-cultural studies.

Typically, self-ratings of these items are correlated with self-ratings of measures of psychological well-being. These have yielded mixed findings as to which strategies are associated with psychological well-being, and Cross (1995) has speculated that a possible reasons for this could be cross-cultural differences in the effectiveness of different coping strategies.

Experiential Examples 7.1 and 7.2 both point to the value of social support for handling stress, and Ward, Bochner and Furnham (2001) report some empirical evidence, which substantiates this. This raises an important question: who can provide the most effective social support – people from the ‘host’ culture, people from one’s own culture, or other ‘foreigners’ or ‘outsiders’?

The psychologist Stephen Bochner explored this issue by studying the friendship patterns of overseas students (e.g., Bochner, McLeod and Lin 1977). He found that people tend to belong to three distinct social networks, and that each of these serves important but different psychological functions. He found that overseas students prefer local students for help with language and academic difficulties, but prefer co-nationals for emotional support (Concept 7.5). Spencer-Oatey and Xiong (2006) report similar findings.

Despite the importance of social support from one’s own cultural group, a number of researchers (e.g., Ward and Kennedy 1993) have found that in the longer term a greater amount of interaction with host nationals is associated with fewer social difficulties, improved communicative competence and facilitates general adaptation to life overseas. Of course, interaction with the host cultural group is a two-way process that requires both parties to be both willing and interested in interacting. Some social settings make that more difficult than others, and this is an issue that we return to in Section 7.3.

Ward and Kennedy (2001) point out, though, that there has been surprisingly little research into the coping strategies that people acutally use to deal with the stressful changes associated with cross-cultural transition, and how effective they are. This is clearly a topic that would benefit from further research. 

Concept 7.3 Intercultural competencies associated with emotional strength


Ability to cope well with stress, uncertainty and anxiety and to bounce back after making mistakes.


Has well-developed methods for dealing with stress, builds local support networks and uses humour to relieve tensions.
Spirit of Adventure


Searches out and enjoys new experiences, even if they are unpredictable and outside the normal comfort zone.
Inner Purpose


Possesses an inner strength and well-defined personal values, self-reliance and determination that provides a clear sense of purpose and direction.
(based on WorldWork, n.d.)