Parental Attachment, Reverse Culture Shock, Perceived Social Support, and College Adjustment of Missionary Children

By Huff, Jennifer L. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Parental Attachment, Reverse Culture Shock, Perceived Social Support, and College Adjustment of Missionary Children


Huff, Jennifer L., Journal of Psychology and Theology


This study explored: (a) the differences between MKs and Non-MKs on measures of parental attachment, perceived social support, reverse culture shock and college adjustment; (b) within-group difference on the personality measures for MKs; and (c) the relations between the constructs of parental attachment, perceived social support, reverse culture shock and college adjustment for MKs and for Non-MKs. There were 110 subjects, 49 MKs (completed data on 45) and 65 Noa-MKs recruited from Westmont College and Biola University. A significant difference was found between MKs and Non-MKs on the Parents as Facilitators of Independence scale of the Parental Attachment Questionnaire and the Cultural Distance and Interpersonal Distance scales of the Homecomer Culture Shock scale. Significant MK within group comparisons were also found on all of the personality measures. Parental Attachment was found to have a direct causal effect on perceived social support and college adjustment for all subjects. Perceived social support was found to be significantly correlated with college adjustment. Pertinent research and applied implications are discussed.

Missionary kids (MKs) belong to a population of children who were raised in a foreign culture different from their parents' home culture, and are, therefore, the products of two culture streams. Because of this, they are often referred to as 'third culture kids' (TCKS; Taylor, 1976). These children are "neither North American nor foreign, but an amalgamation that is different from the sum of its parts" (White, 1983, p. 186). They have n sense of belonging to two separate cultures, without claiming full ownership of either (Sharp, 1985). Moreover, the lives of missionary children are often vulnerable to an inordinate amount of "intense and complex change/separation/loss. They regularly separate from friends, families, homelands, cultural values, eating habits, and recreational habits" (White & Nesbit, 1985, p.498).

The current study will concentrate on the extraordinary bicultural experience of missionary children, focusing on the following constructs: reverse culture shock, parental attachment, perceived social support and college adjustment. The differences between MKs and Non-MKs on these constructs, as well as significant differences among the MKs on these measures will be examined. Finally, the relationship among the constructs will be evaluated.

REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK

Reverse culture shock results from the psychological and psychosomatic consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. Gullahon and Gullahon (1963) described the intercultural processes as originating with cross-cultural acculturation and terminating with reacculturation. The readjustment to the primary culture is postulated to be more difficult than the culture shock experienced when going abroad. Furthermore, it is considered the most stressful aspect of sojourning (Sussman, 1986).

Specific variables have been associated with reverse culture shock. Martin (1984) defined three dimensions that contribute to reverse culture shock: background variables, sojourn variables, and re-entry variables. In this study, only the sojourn and re-entry variables were examined, and hence, will be discussed below.

Sojourn Variables

Location. Missionary families who returned from cultures closely similar to the American culture experienced less reverse culture shock than those who returned from cultures whose technologies and values were extremely distinct than the American culture (Stringham, 1993). Fray (1988), however, did not find the location of overseas residence to be a significant predictor of reverse culture shock.

Identification with Host Country. Stelling (1991) found that a sense of feeling "at home" in a country other than the United States was significantly related to increased reverse culture shock In addition, Sussman (1986) reported that individuals who adapted more successfully overseas experienced more severe reentry problems than those who did not adapt well. …

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