International Assignments: An Integration of Strategy, Research, and Practice

By Linda K. Stroh; J. Stewart Black et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Process of Cross-Cultural
Adjustment

If adjustment to life and work in other cultures were less difficult, far fewer managers and their families would return early from global assignments, and more global managers would perform effectively. The reality, though, is that most people find it difficult to adjust to life in a culture different from the one they're used to. In this chapter, we focus on some of the reasons making cross-cultural adjustment is so often a challenge. In later chapters (this volume), we discuss how adjustment affects such job-related matters as turnover and performance. Before we tackle the topic of cross-cultural adjustment, take a look at Fig. 2.1. It should help you put U. S. and other cultures in perspective. You might be surprised to find out what a small proportion of the population your demographic group happens to be. For example, only 1 in 100 have a college education.


WHAT CULTURE IS AND ISN'T

People usually think of a country's culture as its ceremonies, clothing, historical landmarks, art, and food—that is, things people can see. However, although observing what people wear, eat, and so forth is a first step in understanding a country's culture, it is just a first step. To adjust to a culture, you also need to understand why people dress the way they do, eat the foods they do, and appreciate certain art and music. You also need to understand what they believe and value. In other words, you need to understand both the explicit and the implicit aspects of the culture.

One way to picture a culture is as a tree, with parts visible, above the surface, and parts below—including supporting roots (see Fig. 2.2). The tangible aspects

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