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Culture & communication

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Culture Shock, Korea, and the ESL Teacher

Anyone who leaves their familiar environment for a prolonged spell is prone to the stress of culture shock. Although we know on a rational level that we are going to meet unfamiliar routines and customs, emotionally it takes time to adjust and this period of adjustment leads to unexpected reactions. These could include mood swings, depression, frustration, loneliness, apathy, even panic or physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, colds, stomach upsets. Each of us reacts differently under stress firstly, language may be a source of profound difficulty. If you are not proficient in the language of the host country then the problems could accumulate to an intolerable level. Back home you are a sophisticated individual, well able to articulate your needs and ideas. Suddenly you find people looking at you with blank incomprehension, sometimes even wincing as you massacre their native tongue in your attempts to communicate. It's not surprising that you feel frustrated and isolated.

Other changes such as climate, food, different timetables have a more invidious effect. You may not realize that these are the sources of your emotional, mental or physical pain. Small things start to have a disproportionate importance. People's different behavior patterns have a subtle influence too: are they more time conscious than you or less so? Do they use unfamiliar gestures and facial expressions? How formal are they in social and work situations? Do men and women play different roles from those you are used to?

Typically culture shock moves through different stages, from the initial excitement of the new challenge to a sense of being overwhelmed by all that is unfamiliar, followed by a period when you settle in and gradually take a more balanced view of your new surroundings. The second phase can be very alarming and you may have the sense that you have made a terrible mistake and wish to go home. You will be missing your family and friends, you will long for the foods you can't find in your host country, or your favorite TV program.

So what can you do to minimize the impact of culture shock? Well, you can make full use of all the technological aids that can keep you in touch with your loved ones; nowadays it is possible through email and even video links to make contact as often as you need to. Join societies, sports clubs, work groups that can bring you into contact with your compatriots so that you can swap experiences, borrow and lend books and magazines and talk about your comparisons of the new milieu with the home country. These are the means by which you will feel less isolated and cut off. It can be very reassuring to find a compatriot who understands your reactions.

Proper preparation before you leave for the new country is vital too. Get up to speed on the essential information about the place: its customs, food, religion, all the systems you will need to have contact with such as education, health-care, driving regulations. Do your very best to learn at least a little of the language and try out some of the typical food before you go.

And if things get bad, tell your Director of Studies. It is only reasonable that the school that has brought you away from your home country should provide you with some support in the early stages. Schools should have an induction period for new teachers and could do much to counter the sense of isolation the newcomer often feels. I'd be really interested to know what your school does in this respect.

5. These words are used to describe how people sometimes feel when they live in a foreign country. Revise the prepositions after them. Make up sentences / situations with the words.

anxious, comfortable, confident, curious, depressed, embarrassed, enthusiastic, excited, fascinated, homesick, insecure, nervous, uncertain, worried, etc.

*** “I think I’d be nervous and feel a little uncertain, but I’d be enthusiastic, too!”

  • What would you miss if you moved to a foreign country?

- One thing (that) I’d really miss is my mom’s cooking.

- Something I’d be nervous about is making new friends.

- Two people I’d e-mail every day are my parents.

2. Cultural differences

1. Read and render the article. (See the Appendix)

Cultural differences? Are we really so different?

In 1993, I had my first opportunity to visit Russia as a representative of the University of California. I was there to provide some technical assistance in the area of agricultural labor management. "Russians are a very polite people," I had been tutored before my arrival. One of my interpreters, once I was there, explained that a gentleman will pour the limonad (type of juice) for the ladies and show other courtesies.

Toward the end of my three week trip I was invited by my young Russian host and friend Nicolai Vasilevich and his lovely wife Yulya out to dinner. At the end of a wonderful meal Yulya asked if I would like a banana. I politely declined and thanked her, and explained I was most satisfied with the meal. But the whole while my mind was racing: "What do I do? Do I offer her a banana even though they are as close to her as they are to me? What is the polite thing to do?"

"Would you like a banana?" I asked Yulya.

"Yes," she smiled, but made no attempt to take any of the three bananas in the fruit basket. "What now?" I thought.

"Which one would you like?" I fumbled.

"That one," she pointed at one of the bananas. So all the while thinking about Russian politeness I picked the banana Yulya had pointed at and peeled it half way and handed it to her. Smiles in Yulya and Nicolai's faces told me I had done the right thing. After this experience I spent much time letting the world know that in Russia, the polite thing is to peel the bananas for the ladies. Sometime during my third trip I was politely disabused of my notion.

"Oh no, Grigorii Davidovich," a Russian graciously corrected me. "In Russia, when a man peels a banana for a lady it means he has a romantic interest in her." How embarrassed I felt. And here I had been proudly telling everyone about this tidbit of cultural understanding.

Certain lessons have to be learned the hard way. Some well meaning articles and presentations on cultural differences have a potential to do more harm than good and may not be as amusing. They present, like my bananas, too many generalizations or quite a distorted view.

Some often-heard generalizations about the Hispanic culture include: Hispanics need less personal space, make less eye contact, touch each other more in normal conversation, and are less likely to participate in a meeting. Generalizations are often dangerous, and especially when accompanied by recommendations such as: move closer when talking to Hispanics, make more physical contact, don't expect participation, and so on.

Here is an attempt to sort out a couple of thoughts on cultural differences. My perspective is that of a foreign born-and-raised Hispanic who has now lived over two decades in the United States and has had much opportunity for international travel and exchange.

  • Different Customs

^ 2. Read the following statements and decide if they are true or false, generally speaking.

The Germans are very efficient.

The Italians have very close-knit families.

The French are arrogant.

The Japanese work extremely hard.

The British expect foreigners to speak English.

The Russians like vodka.

The British don’t like showing their emotions in public.

The Japanese don’t blow their noses in public.

The Thais don’t touch their heads in public.

The Spanish associate chrysanthemums with death.

The Swiss are good at skiing.

The Japanese respect authority.

The British drink a lot of tea.

The British are not very religious.

^ 3. Answer the questions.

Does your culture follow any of these customs?

Do any of these customs seem unusual to you? Explain.

What other interesting customs do you know?

What customs should a visitor to your country know about?

^ 4. Complete the sentences to make them about customs in Russia (the USA, the UK. etc.). Follow the model: When you visit someone it’s the custom (you’re supposed / expected; you’re not available) to bring a small gift.

1) If you plan to visit someone at home, …

2) When you have been invited to a wedding, …

3) If the service in a restaurant is good, …

4) When you meet someone for the first time, …when you go out on a date, …

5) …

6) …

^ 5. Read and render the article. Explain the meaning of the highlighted words:

Russian Culture

Nowadays turning back one can say that Russian culture was not homogeneous in itself. Political, ideological and ethical bias of epochs, no doubt, had an influence on the history of our country. But nevertheless, among all those bias there existed some middle way - a powerful stream of tradition, which defined the very essence of the whole. Moreover, private ways did not always coincide with the common stream, taking away in so-called 'cultural deadlocks', which as

it turned out, impressed our contemporaries most of all.

It is worth mentioning that they stopped creating culture, they began interpreting and using it. But the golden age of our home culture that came after a very short (both from historical and human points of view) flash of Pushkin's genius was far beyond the horizon. Longing for world culture, if it is still alive, - is longing for Pushkin's epoch this time.

The heights of Russian culture - are not so much ethical perfection as serving to conscience. Moral measuring of public actions is undoubtedly, the merit of Russian culture. In Russia literature and philology became the basis of it and it is not only our writers' merit but also the fact that philology is the main peculiarity of our home culture. The biographies of our Russian literary men, publicists and thinkers often became hagiology for new generations.

By the end of the last century the epoch of cultural unity had turned out to be ideological breaking up. Remarkable, by itself, the striving of Russian cultural estate to serve the society resulted in substituting of ideal criteria for marketing of its utilitarian use. Unfortunately, social values began prevailing more and more over private life; over cultural creative work and the things having public significance began ousting the things having moral and outlook significance. What is more, so-called 'Silver Age' was unable to continue the tradition with dignity and to solve the problem of unity. Culture, and first of all philology, soared over life in search of spirituality.

Thus, so unexpectedly the weakness of Russian culture in the sense of realizing lofty ideals was discovered. Very promising cultural abundance of the beginning of the 20th century turned into deadlocks and barren flowers - the Russian society was unable to find neither cultural nor moral immunity against Marxist and social virus. Russian culture dispersed about the world - and that was the first experience of its worldwide existence.

Nowadays, twice during the century, Russian culture happened to be separated and again violently. However, if at the beginning of the century the best representatives of culture were ousted from language as well as national areas of existence, then nowadays Russian geocultural space itself split into several political trends. But the thing is not only in splitting of Russian imperial space, in the capitals of which culture was mainly created. From that time, Russian cultural centres have become the part of the worldwide culture, where they have to exist mainly as a museum and tourist industry. Nevertheless, province is still province and it is deprived of the possibility for creativity due to historical circumstances. And it is now the turn of the Russian people, living on their own land, under the defense of their traditions, but deprived of their common national guiding lines. Russian culture is doomed either to life on its own or further provincial existence but this time on a worldwide scale.

Still for the present Russian culture experiences its unity both in geographical and historical spheres that is it adheres to its sources and traditions. But it should be admitted that Russian sluggishness and the feeling of grandeur made it impossible for us to complete the process of cultural self-awareness, to touch the sources and to be imbued with the sense of self-dignity in full measure. This might become the end of Russian history of culture, as well as its starting point.

To go ahead it is necessary to return to our sources - to unity, to the unity where there is no separation into patriots and Westernists, liberals and communists, but there are only men of honour and scoundrels. The thing is that our Russian world is made in such a way that men of honour were the first to die but thanks to this it was clear who was the real scoundrel. It is our cultural heritage that helps us to become so fastidious. That is the hardest work to do, which requires not only great moral efforts but also intellectual self-mobilization.

Nowadays, Pushkin's lines are still clear and understandable; the language of Russian classic literature is not consigned to oblivion. Recently the works of Russian thinkers and religious figures have become available to us.

As for cultural Renaissance it is still a great Utopia. But the task of renewing of traditions, lying in the basis of culture and defining its contents, is very important and noble work. It is this work that leads us to future.

^ 6. Use the information from the Net or from any dictionaries / newspapers / magazines and write a tourist pamphlet for your country / any country you like.

Tips for Travelers

When you visit Indonesia, there are some important things you should know. For example, if you’re visiting a mosque or temple, it’s not acceptable to take photographs. Also, you are supposed to …

^ 7. Read the article quickly. In which paragraph will you find the answer to the following questions?

a) Why did people have only one name long ago?

b) Why did people begin to use family names?

c) In what ways were family names formed?

d) Is the origin of some Russian family names similar to the origin of British ones?

Family Names

  1. Most names of today’s population of England, the USA and Canada had their beginning long ago. There many ways in which English family names began. In this text you will see that many Russian family names began in the same way as English ones.

  2. About a thousand years ago there were only few people living in the British Isles. Towns and villages were very small and in the country-side people lived far from each other. As there were so few people, almost everyone had only one name. So, a name such as John, David or Mary was all that was needed.

  3. As time went on, more and more people appeared in the towns and country-side of Britain. To distinguish one John by name from another, people began to add a family name to the first names. When John’s son was made into one word “Johnson”, it was used as a family name. The Scottish “Mac” also meant “the son of”, so Macadam meant “the son of Adam”. The same can be said about Irish “O” – O’Nail meant “the son of Nail.

  4. Later still family names came from the kind of work done by people. John Smith, John Baker, John Farmer are examples of this. Another way to distinguish between people was to say where they lived. If John lived near the water, he was called “John at water” or simply John Atwater. Another John who lived by the brook could be described as John Brook. Other names of this kind are Hill, Rivers, Forest.

  5. Yet another way to distinguish between one John and another was to give them nicknames. Nicknames are very personal. They describe physical or other characteristics. “Strong”, “Short”, and “Long” are only few of many names which first came from nicknames.

    • Read the text again and complete the chart.

Family names formed from




father’s name

  • Read the text “Русские фамилии” and add possible Russian family names to the chart.

^ Русские фамилии

Русские фамилии обычно образуются от личных имен, т.е. имен, данных тому или иному лицу, - к ним относятся как имена, полученные при крещении, так и прозвища, даваемые человеку по его профессии, месту проживания или каким-либо другим признакам. В этом отношении русская традиция не отличается от традиций других народов.

Подавляющее большинство русских фамилий имеет патронимический характер, т.е. указывает отношение сына к отцу, который выражается специальными суффиксами. Обычно это суффиксы -ов, -ев и -ин. К женским фамилиям добавляется окончание –а.

Русские фамилии могут склоняться как в единственном, так и во множественном числе, то есть могут изменять свои окончания в отсутствии с падежом.

Ударение в русских фамилиях непостоянное. Две формально одинаковые русские фамилии с разным ударением – это две разные фамилии.

  • Using the text about British names tell about origin of some Russian family names. Do you know any other ways in which Russian family names begin? Work in pairs and make your suggestions, give examples.


From names of animals: Medvedev

From names of plants: ………….

From names of ……….

  • Do you know the origin of your family name? Make a research and report to the class.

Keep in mind that …

An interculturally effective person is someone who is able to live contentedly and work successfully in another culture. Taken a little further, the interculturally effective person has three main attributes:

  • an ability to communicate with people of another culture in a way that earns their respect and trust

  • the capacity to adapt his/her professional skills (both technical and managerial) to fit local conditions and constraints

  • the capacity to adjust personally so that s/he is content and generally at ease in the host culture

^ 7. Write an essay about one of the problems above.

8. Surf the Net and find the information for the future reports:

  • Russian stereotype

  • American stereotype

  • British stereotype

  • National character

To sum up:

  • Why is ‘globalisation’ the essential notion in the modern life?

  • What are positive and negative sides of globalisation?

  • What should we know about people around?

  • What is culture shock? Do you have your own experience?

  • If you could live in a foreign country, what country would you like to live in? Why?

  • What country wouldn’t you like to live in? Why?

  • Who is the person you would most like to go abroad with?

  • What is something you would never travel without?

  • What would be your two greatest concerns about living abroad?

  • What shocked you when visiting another country?

  • What symptoms of culture shock do you know?

  • How to fight culture shock?

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