This is part three of a series of posts that will help us get the most out of the stress involved in adjusting to a new culture. In Part One, I talked about the fact that not all stress is bad. In fact, we enjoy stress. In Part Two, I shared 5 poor coping strategies. These are things that make us feel better and may temporarily relieve the stress, but ultimately do not help us to adjust to a new culture. These 5 coping strategies should be avoided.
Today, were going to talk about 6 coping strategies that we should use because they help us adjust to a new culture. While the poor coping strategies only make us feel better, these 6 things actually help the situation. We call these coping strategies “active” or “direct” because they involve actions and will help move our cultural adjustment forward.
Since learning a new language can be one of the most stressful parts of cultural adjustment, I’m going to illustrate each of these coping strategies with an example of how you might put them to use while learning a new language.
1. Planning. When you feel stress because of difficulty in learning a new language, set aside time every day to study. For example, make it your plan that from 2:00 to 3:00 you will review old vocabulary words, and from 3:00 until 4:00 you will work on new vocabulary words. That is a plan that will help you learn a new language and adjust to a new culture.
2. Suppression of competing activities. When you feel bad because you’re having trouble learning a new language, many people will throw themselves into reading a novel by playing video games. This helps relieve the stress because they’re thinking of something else, but it doesn’t help cultural adjustment. Ignore the tendency to do this and buckled down to the hard work.
3. Use of instrumental support. Surround yourself with people who can help you along your journey of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Find a language tutor who will help you for a few minutes every day.
4. Waiting for an appropriate opportunity to act. The emphasis here is not on “waiting” but on “acting.” But the acting must be done at the proper time. One way to put this coping strategy into use is deciding when you will force yourself to use the target language. For example, make the commitment to yourself that every time you go to the market to go shopping you will only use Arabic even though it’s difficult and some of the shopkeepers want to speak with you in English.
5. Solving problems responsibly. This is simply not ignoring a problem and taking action steps to solve that problem. For instance, if you don’t understand some kind of grammar rule that you learned in class today, humble yourself, visit your next-door neighbor and ask them to explain that particular grammar rule.
6. Being socially involved with host country nationals. This should be obvious, but is one of the most important aspects of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Spend time with your local friends, get to know them, ask them questions, keep a notebook of insights, and enjoy yourself in the local culture.
These are 6 things that you should do when the stress of learning a new language and culture are painful. Keep these in mind, practice them, and I can guarantee they will take you further down the road.
For discussion: Can you think of a way that you can put one of these 6 active coping strategies to work for yourself today? Please tell us about it.