Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is the honeymoon Over Yet?

Last year our ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) program population doubled as we received many new immigrants from South and Central America and refugees from the Chin state of  Burma. However, moving to a new country can be an emotional upheaval devastating to any child or parent. These symptoms are compounded when the child comes from a different culture and does not speak English.

What is Culture Shock?
Newcomers who act out in the classroom are probably suffering from culture shock. This is a term used to describe the feelings people have when they move to an unfamiliar culture. Immigrant and refugees may become withdrawn and passive or they may be aggressive. The more different the new culture is from their own, the greater the shock. Newcomers have left behind family members, friends, teachers, and pets. They have lost their language and culture. Often they do not have the support of their parents who are in shock too.

Four Stages of Culture Shock
It must be emphasized that every child reacts differently to moving to a new place. New arrivals usually go through four stages of culture shock.

1. Honeymoon Stage
During this stage newcomers are excited about their new lives. Everything is wonderful and they are having a great time learning about their environment.

2. Culture Shock Stage
The differences between the new and the native cultures becomes more apparent. Students and parents feel overwhelmed at this stage. There is so much they do not understand about their new surroundings. They are frustrated because they can not communicate and are bombarded with unfamiliar surroundings, unreadable social signals and an unrelenting barrage of new sounds. Students suffering from culture shock may seem sleepy, irritable, disinterested or depressed. Some children may become aggressive and act out their frustrations.
Newcomers in this stage of culture shock need time and patience from their teachers and community members.

3. Integration Stage
Newcomers start to deal with the differences between the old culture and new. They learn to integrate their own beliefs with those of the new culture. Some newcomers will start to replace the old values with new ones. Others will begin to find ways to exist with both cultures. Many immigrant parents start to become alarmed at this stage. They do not want their children to lose their language and culture.

4. Acceptance Stage
Newcomers are now able to enter and prosper in the mainstream culture. They accept both cultures and combine them into their lives. Some students will adopt the mainstream culture at school and follow the values of the home culture outside of school. During this stage many immigrant parents make it clear to their children that they do not want them to adopt the mainstream culture. This is because many immigrant students forget their native language and reject their culture and may loose their identity, which is a concern to many of their parents.
My students asked me to teach their moms how to make pizza.

As we approach a new school year, invite a new foreign-born family to dinner, go to their home and teach them to bake a favorite American dish, go to a high school football game, back to school picnic and any upcoming school/community events! Building bridges with our neighbors creates a strong and close collaboration between our families, youth and community.

~Stages of Culture Shock adopted by Judie Haynes~

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