Culture Shock And Adaptation While Moving To American Samoa

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Moving to American Samoa created a significant culture shock because of the major culture differences between the Samoan and the Chinese culture. This paper evaluates my thought processes comparing and contrasting two different culture, my own and the Samoan culture. This paper researches the psychological reasoning of the progress I have made and making in adapting to a new country. The main purpose of this research is to identify and discuss the process that Chinese individuals, such as I, adapt to the following: the English language, the cultural difference, and the introduction of a new educational system.

Lifespan Development Project

People move to other countries for many reasons like a new job, better education, and financial stability. I have lived in China my whole life. In 2016, my family moved to American Samoa for better opportunities such as work and education. It was such a very difficult experience. Being at the age of 18, I was already aware of the surroundings, which means I was aware that everything around me will be more different than I was used to. To adapt to a new country, I had to expose myself to the new language, educational system, and culture.

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In 2016, my family and I decided to immigrate to American Samoa. My parents believed that it will be good for my sister and I to receive a good college education so that we may not struggle to find jobs when we got older. It was a very big change for me. For all of my 18 years of living, there is only one place I was familiar with—my home country, China. Moving to a completely new environment presented many problems—language, culture, and tradition barrier. Although American Samoa has a massive and friendly Chinese community, the language barrier stood the biggest obstacle in developing into the new place. I could not speak nor comprehend English very well, making it very difficult for me to understand anything.

Adapt to a new language

English is the primary language spoken in American Samoa; it is a language widely spoken all throughout the world. However, in China, I was not exposed too much of the English language. On top of that, the translation of the Chinese language to English was not very reliable due to many terms that they do not have in common. Being in the stage of young adulthood, it is much more difficult for me to learn a new language. Stephen Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition proves that it is very much possible for one to develop a second language. However, Krashen (1981) said, “You cannot learn English well if you do not have the opportunity to interact with English speakers in thousands of varied situations over a period of years”. Because I was not exposed to any English interactions at home, it became difficult for me to develop the English language. Also, many of my Chinese friends preferred to speak in Chinese rather than in English; it did not help me to adapt well at all. Feng (1991) discusses, “PRC (People’s Republic of China) students are afraid of being embarrassed because of language problems, so they withdraw from social activities and form their own social community and interact within the community in their native language, Chinese”. Feng’s study in the hindrance of Chinese students from adapting and adjusting to a new country explains why it is very difficult for Chinese students in American Samoa to adapt to the language and the culture. There are several instruments that I personally use to lessen the language barrier between me and the people I interact with. Technology (translators) is one instrument I could use to somewhat grasp comprehension in people’s speech.

Translation apps gave me a better understanding of what people say when they talk to me. However, as useful it may be, there would be times when the translation app could not translate some words correctly. This creates a problematic feature in technology. Learning the language itself was much more important. I needed to be more exposed to the daily English language.

A part of Krashen’s theory proposes the “sink or swim” method of second language acquisition, commonly called “submersion”. Krashen (1981) describes this method using a classroom example, “In submersion programs, NEP (non-English proficient) children are simply placed in the same classroom as native English speakers and the regular curriculum is followed. There is no organized attempt to provide any special instruction or extra help for these children” (p. 53). This forces non-English speaking students such as me to learn the language.

Because most schools in American Samoa speak English as the medium of instruction, I was put into a position where I had to adapt to the language whether I liked it or not. It was not as awful as it sounds. I became more and more familiar with the English language through friends that help me understand words put into context. Enrolling at the local college, American Samoa Community College, gave me more challenges. Collegiate level assignments became more difficult for me to finish. I am more familiar with the simple daily English language, reading college books containing words I do not understand can be very tough. Second language acquisition is much more difficult with age. Being already in my young adulthood stage, learning a new language is a lot more stressful than it would be if I was younger. Gordon (2000) mentions, “Age is a factor in acquiring one’s mother tongue, and this also applies when learning a second language. One essential to developing such a skill is the ability to switch from one language to the other, as appropriate”. Adapting to the educational system in American Samoa really put me in a “sink or swim” situation; no matter how difficult it might be for my age.

Adapt in the new educational system

Being in the stage of young adulthood, college is a big feature that I have to face. This caused much more stress because—not only was I adapting to a new environment, I was adapting to a whole new education system. In Chapter 13 of the textbook, the development of a young adult is discussed. Montgomery and Cote (2003) said that “college can be a time of intellectual discovery and personal growth, especially in verbal and quantitative skills, critical thinking and moral reasoning” (Papalia, Feldman, Martorell, 2012). I juggle the ideas of mastering a second language acquisition and adapting to the educational system in American Samoa.

A study conducted by Guofang Wan examines how Chinese students interact and adapt on to the United States’ system. The study itself speaks of the experiences of migrated Chinese students attending universities in the United States. Wan (1999) talks about the disillusionment—a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be, that the subjects experienced in the United States. The language barrier did not stand as one and only problem. There were also other factors such as financial problems, pressure from schoolwork, and not learning as much as they expected from school. Reading this study made me relate to the experiences they had to the experiences I have. Because the American Samoa is under the United States, the system is the same. The education itself caters the native English speakers. Feng (1991) discusses that the American culture values individuality, competition, and independence; in sharp contrast, the Chinese culture values collectiveness, and cooperation. The American culture values self-expression, whereas the Chinese emphasize self-control (Wan, 1999). This explains why Chinese students, such as myself, develops into the system much more slowly than the local students.

According to Liu (2014), “Chinese education focuses on the knowledge of accumulation, on how students manage and use the knowledge they learned in school, and on understandings of knowledge systems and structures. Americans are interested in how students use their knowledge in society. The American system lets students criticize ideas, and challenge as well as create concepts.” I grew up in a much more different environment and system than the students I encounter with.

There are several studies that discuss the students of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and how they adapt to new countries. Jianhua Feng observed four Chinese students and studied four principal areas such as: financial difficulty, cultural differences, academic concerns, and language ability. These areas were believed to be the key to achieving adaptation and adjustment in a whole new environment. Feng (1991) stated, “Students adaptation problems clearly suggest that they generally have problems in financial aid, cultural adjustment and social interaction with Americans, academic concern, and language ability”. Adapting to the educational system was not easy; the Chinese system and culture are very much different from the systems and culture presented in American Samoa.

Adapt in the new culture

Culture shock is the most significant feeling I have experienced moving to American Samoa. Living in China for all 18 years of my life and having a sudden, abrupt change in culture and tradition exposure was very overwhelming. One of the things that were very interesting to me is the Samoan tradition of men wearing an i’e faitaga. My first thought was, “Why is that man wearing a skirt?” being ignorant of the Samoan culture. The longer I have resided on the island, the more things about the culture that I have become accustomed to seeing. I have grown very much respect in the local culture and traditions. Though I have not adopted the culture myself, I can compare the differences between my own culture and the Samoan culture.

There are many things that I may find odd that the Samoan customs and traditions practice and there might be things that others might find odd about the customs and traditions I practice. Apart from the language, there are other components of my culture that is different from the Samoan culture. When we greet people, for respect, we bow. In American Samoa, people usually just wave hello or just say hello. Also, we do not start our year until January. Our New Year starts on January 25 while in everywhere else, it is January 1. During New Years’ money is a gifted to younger member of family in a small red envelope. When a Chinese celebrates birthdays, noodles are served in the belief that it symbolizes a long life. We also have a tradition of rolling two eggs from head to toe. In American Samoa, there is no exact birthday celebration. Every family celebrates it in their own way. Flags are also very much respected in China. Flags are not to be reprinted on merchandise like shirts. In American Samoa, representing the flag in their clothing is their sense of cultural pride. We do not do that. In China, religion is not very big. There is almost little to no religion at all. In American Samoa is the total opposite. You will find churches in every corner. There will be at least three churches in one block. American Samoans value religion very much. Sundays are respected as to practice a quiet and calm Sundays. On Sundays, they also celebrate the togetherness of a family in feasts called toona’i.

In my country, the main starches that we eat are rice and noodles. In American Samoa, the main starch is taro and banana. As we eat with chopsticks, Samoans use utensils like forks and knives. However, the two different ethnicities share some similarities—universal similarities like family prioritization and respect for the elders. These cultural features are some of the few things I have grown to respect while living in American Samoa.

The climate in American Samoa is very hot and humid. It is very different from China. The island only experiences two seasons: summer and rainy seasons. While, on the other hand, China experiences four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. The small island of American Samoa is very much more peaceful compared to the big, very populated, and busy country of China. The development from being in a busy, loud place transitioning to a calm, quiet new home was slow, lonesome, and difficult. However, I have grown accustomed, almost comfortable living on the island. Sussman mentions the transition from migration from one country to another and the adaptation it eventually brings. Sussman (2002) said, “sojourners reach some equilibrium, allowing them to balance comfort (defined by home culture) with effectiveness (defined by host country members). Step four of the Cultural Identity model suggests that several personal factors influence how much we adjust to the host country including how flexible we are and how important our cultural identity is to us”. Sojourners refer to international individuals that study or work in another country. According to Sussman’s study, becoming able to adapt and adjust to another country is not impossible. Although several things might stand in the way, hindering the development, one will likely to progress over time.

Living in a strange environment will eventually cause the mind to adjust. Cultural transition does exist. I understand this and can apply this very well to my personal experience because I have resided in American Samoa for about three years now. However, I do not believe I have completely transitioned into full adaptation. There are many more things to learn—such as fluency in the English language, celebration of the Samoan tradition, and adaptation to the culture of respect. I have not yet made the friends I can make. Although I have already made several friends, I believe that there is much more room for cultural exposure that will help me improve my cultural intelligence and most importantly, speaking the English language. Over time, my mind will adapt, adjust, and assimilate into the Samoan culture.

Conclusion

People move to other countries for several reasons. Migration to another country is resulted in aspiring to achieve a better life by finding better-paying jobs, better living conditions, and a better educational system. However, when most people go to another country, especially in the beginning, they are difficult to adapt to the environment, education, or culture of other countries. I moved to the small island of American Samoa in 2016. It was a very difficult experience. Adapting to a new country was not easy. I had to expose myself to the new language, educational system, and culture. Finally, I believe that as long as we are willing to adapt to the environment, such as participating in outdoor activities and communicating with others, the way to adaptation will not be far from us.

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Culture Shock And Adaptation While Moving To American Samoa. (2021, August 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/culture-shock-and-adaptation-while-moving-to-american-samoa/
“Culture Shock And Adaptation While Moving To American Samoa.” Edubirdie, 13 Aug. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/culture-shock-and-adaptation-while-moving-to-american-samoa/
Culture Shock And Adaptation While Moving To American Samoa. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/culture-shock-and-adaptation-while-moving-to-american-samoa/> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2021].
Culture Shock And Adaptation While Moving To American Samoa [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 13 [cited 2021 Dec 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/culture-shock-and-adaptation-while-moving-to-american-samoa/
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