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«International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005) 217–238 Transformation abroad: Sojourning and the ...»

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ARTICLE IN PRESS

International Journal of Intercultural Relations

29 (2005) 217–238

www.elsevier.com/locate/ijintrel

Transformation abroad: Sojourning and the

perceived enhancement of self-efficacy

Tema MilsteinÃ

Department of Communication, University of Washington, Box 353740, Seattle, WA 98195-3740, USA

Abstract

This paper empirically examines communication self-efficacy as a possible profound payoff

of sojourning. A review of relevant literature explores the interrelationships of communica- tion, sojourning, and personal growth. Questionnaire data from an international sample of 212 Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) alumni are used to test hypotheses about the sojourn and perceived changes in communication self-efficacy. Data analysis revealed that 95.5% of the sample retrospectively reported a perceived increase in self-efficacy. In addition, positive correlations were found between self-reported challenge of sojourn and reported perceived change in self-efficacy, and between self-reported success of sojourn and perceived communication self-efficacy scores. Discussion addresses these findings as well as study limitations, possible future research directions, and implications for practice.

r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Self-efficacy; Sojourner; Transformation; Growth; Intercultural adaptation; Culture shock;

Reentry

1. Introduction Speak to people about their time abroad and often their eyes will light up. Many who have sojourned describe their experiences as profoundly meaningful, often ÃTel.: (206) 543 2660; fax: (206) 616 3762.

E-mail address: tema@u.washington.edu.

0147-1767/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.05.005

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T. Milstein / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005) 217–238 218 crediting them with changing them at fundamental levels.1 Some sojourners describe a transformation in their very sense of self, both in how they experience their own cultures and in how they view their life paths. Some speak of an increased sense of empowerment, an enriched sense of belief in their own capabilities. The current study focuses on this seemingly common sense of transformation, and explores whether this perceived sense of growth can be empirically measured by specifically looking at sojourners’ beliefs about their communication self-efficacy.

Past studies of sojourners tended to emphasize sojourners’ psychological well- being in encountering unfamiliar environmental demands within the host culture.

These studies tended to look at the sojourn from a problem-oriented vantage, often focusing on whether sojourners’ effectiveness overseas and their ability to deal with culture shock could be predicted before the sojourn (Kim, 1987, 2001). Some researchers criticized what they saw as an ‘‘exclusive emphasis on the negative aspects of geographic movement’’ (Furnham & Bochner, 1986, p. 42), and urged researchers to begin to look at positive and growth aspects of the sojourn.

Adler (1975, 1987) argued that, while culture shock was most often associated with negative outcomes, researchers should also look at how culture shock is often important for self-development and personal growth. Adler (1987) explained the sojourn in terms of a transitional process that moves an individual from a state of low self and cultural awareness to a state of higher self and cultural awareness and described culture shock as ‘‘an experience in self-understanding and change’’ (p. 29).

Furnham and Bochner (1986) further examined this growth-oriented vantage, stating, ‘‘The implication is that although it may be strange and possibly difficult, sojourning makes a person more adaptable, flexible, and insightful’’ (p. 47).

Kim and Ruben (1988) integrated the intercultural adaptation-as-problem approach and the intercultural adaptation-as-learning/growth approach with their theory of intercultural transformation. Kim (2001) clarified that all experiences of cross-cultural adaptation are both problematic and growth producing. ‘‘Despite, or rather because of, the difficulties crossing cultures entails, people do and must change some of their old ways so as to carry out their daily activities and achieve improved quality of life in the new environment’’ (p. 21). The present study continues this trend in sojourner research, proceeding with the assumption that the reality of sojourner adaptation is truly the relative, dialectical integration of problem and growth.

Models and theories about growth possibilities of the sojourn are central to the intercultural discussion. In recent years, more empirical studies on the sojourn have begun to look at its impact on individuals (Cushner & Karim, 2004). Many of these newer studies look at positive outcomes, such as creation of a global worldview (Bachner, Zeutschel, & Shannon, 1993); attitude change (Sell, 1983); enhanced awareness and understanding of oneself (Kauffmann et al., 1992); higher levels of international concern and cross-cultural interest, as well as more positive, though more critical, attitudes toward one’s home country (Carlson & Widaman, 1988); and 1 A sojourn, as defined here, involves individuals living within a location and culture different from their own for a period of 6 months to 5 years with the intention to return home (Furnham & Bochner, 1986).





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T. Milstein / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005) 217–238 219 general personal growth (Hansel & Grove, 1985, 1986). Most of these types of studies, including those listed here, are limited to student sojourner participants.

Like some of the above studies, the current study is interested in sojourners’ perceptions of growth or transformation as related to the sojourn. In an effort to examine sojourners’ perceptions, the study is empirical. It is also retrospective, as it is particularly interested in sojourners’ perceptions and sensemaking of growth as they relate that growth to the sojourn. This study is one of the few to look at self-efficacy, or belief in capability, in the domain of communication. It is also possibly the first work to empirically relate the domain of communication self-efficacy to the sojourn.

In addition, the study joins other recent research in expanding the focus of sojourner type to examine post-college, international sojourners’ outcomes.

This article first explores the relevant communication literature to examine the relationships of communication, sojourning, and self-efficacy, and to illustrate how intercultural communication, adaptation, and sojourn theories can be enhanced by theories of self-efficacy. Questionnaire data from 212 Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) alumni are used to test hypotheses about the relationship of the sojourn to perceived increases in self-efficacy. A report of the findings is followed by a discussion of limitations of the current study, as well as possible future research and implications for practice.

2. A theoretical model of sojourning and self-efficacy

The process of the sojourn is filled with challenges and hardships, as well as often extreme highs and lows. Precisely because the sojourn represents a formidable task, it also carries with it the potential for accelerated internal growth. It is in this growth potential that the current study is most interested, particularly in how this growth affects the perception of one’s ability to communicate. The following section reviews literature on culture shock, intercultural sensitivity, and intercultural transformation theory. These theoretical concepts are then related to self-efficacy to show how the challenges sojourners face might relate to perceived personal growth.

2.1. Culture shock

Oberg (1960) popularized the term culture shock, and further oriented culture shock to communication, referring to the phenomenon as the ‘‘anxiety that results from losing all of our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse’’ (1960, p. 177).

Culture shock has ‘‘three basic causal explanations: (1) the loss of familiar cues, (2) the breakdown of interpersonal communications, and (3) an identity crisis’’ (Weaver, 1994, p. 171). The return home, in which individuals experience the shock of reentry into a formerly familiar and often unquestioned culture, is called reentry shock, and usually represents another traumatic period of adjustment for the sojourner.

Researchers who maintain that culture shock is often positive see the process as a learning experience that leads to greater intercultural understanding (Adler, 1975;

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T. Milstein / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005) 217–238 220 Bennett, 1993; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Kim, 2001; Pederson, 1995; Ward et al., 2001). Adler (1975) argued culture shock can be seen as a transitional experience that leads an individual to gain ‘‘new experiential knowledge by coming to understand the roots of his or her own ethnocentrism and by gaining new perspectives and outlooks on the nature of culture’’ (p. 22). These gained understandings often entail ‘‘psychic growth’’ and a higher level of intercultural competence, which Kim (2001) termed ‘‘intercultural personhood,’’ ‘‘an emerging state of a person’s changed outlook and behavior accompanying a substantial amount of cross-cultural adaptation experience’’ (p. 184).

2.2. Bennett’s developmental model of intercultural sensitivity

Bennett’s (1993; Bennett & Bennett, 2004) developmental model of intercultural sensitivity illustrates a sojourn as an intensive learning and growth experience that one might argue would likely result in a higher level of perceived self-efficacy.

Hammer et al. (2003) point out that each stage of a sojourner’s growth in the process of gaining intercultural sensitivity introduces the potential for increasingly more sophisticated intercultural experiences. The process of gaining intercultural sensitivity begins with ethnocentrism, the view that the world revolves around one’s self and one’s culture, and ends with the ultimate stage of ethnorelativism, an incorporation of multiple worldviews. In the first stage, one experiences three ethnocentric orientations: denial, defense, and minimization. In the second, one experiences three ethnorelative orientations: acceptance, adaptation, and integration. Hammer et al. empirically measured both the ethnorelative and ethnocentric orientations, and on their scale scores found no systematic gender differences and no significant differences for age, education, or social desirability, suggesting the concepts are fairly stable and applicable to most people’s experience.

The achievement of an ethnorelative state serves to decrease anxiety and enhance the experience of traveling outside of one’s home culture. According to Gudykunst and Hammer (1988), the adaptation process ‘‘involves working out a fit between the person and the new cultural environment’’ (p. 107). This fit comes only after the sojourner is able to change her or his role and cognitive processes in ways that lead to more effective communication.

2.3. Intercultural transformation theory

Kim and Ruben’s (1988) intercultural transformation theory more specifically explains the growth process of the sojourn in terms that fit a self-efficacy framework.

Intercultural transformation theory assumes individuals grow during intercultural encounters through a process called the stress-adaptation-growth dynamic. The theory maintains the individual is a dynamic, self-reflexive system that observes and renews itself ‘‘as it continuously interacts with the environment (a suprasystem made up of many person-systems)’’ (Kim, 2001, p. 35).

According to intercultural transformation theory, when incoming messages do not fit expectations, the individual’s equilibrium is disturbed; resulting stress forces the

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T. Milstein / International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005) 217–238 221 individual to take adaptive measures to regain equilibrium. Each disequilibrium experience leaves the individual with an experiential lesson, leaving one less stressed and more flexible in subsequent similar encounters because of greater cognitive, behavioral, and affective capacity from the mastered stressful encounter.

The theory of disequilibration, or the reaction to the introduction of new ideas or experiences that provide new problems, employed in intercultural transformation theory has touched diverse areas in the field of communication and, in the process, has addressed the potential for human growth in relation to communication. In describing their model of disequilibration via news shock, Chaffee and Mcdevitt (1997) explain that a disequilibration model follows human instinct in assuming that the sensation of feeling unsettled, out of place, or experiencing the feeling of vertigo ‘‘produces a motivation to do something to avoid tipping over’’ (p. 5). The researchers add, ‘‘the changes the person undertakes to restore equilibrium can constitute human growth’’ (p. 7).

The theory of disequilibration is further claimed at a foundational level by researchers who investigate human growth during childhood. Cognitive development theorist Jean Piaget (1985) points to disequilibration as the impetus children need to regain equilibrium by constructing knowledge. Kim and Ruben (1988) further explain the theory of disequilibration in terms of fundamental human growth, stating, ‘‘The dynamic tension between stress and adaptation and the resultant internal growth essentially characterizes the life processes of humans (as well as all living systems)’’ (p. 308).

Stress is an inevitable component of the sojourner’s experience; researchers have characterized intercultural experiences as inherently stressful (Kim & Ruben, 1988;



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