Catherine Ann Lombard, M.A.

Book Abstract


From Culture Shock to Personal Transformation,
Studying Abroad and the Search for Meaning

Culture shock is a well-known term used to define the initial experiences of immersion in an unfamiliar culture. Numerous authors have contributed to its definition and presented models that describe the process of adapting to another culture. Other researchers have systematically formulated the causes of culture shock and, in turn, offered training methodologies for its prevention. Currently, most theoretical approaches to culture shock have been accommodated into a broad theoretical framework based on affective, behavioral and cognitive (ABC) aspects of shock and adaptation.

As the number of international students continues to increase worldwide, their experience of culture shock, as defined by these ABC components, has been well-researched.  Few studies, however, have also explored students’ struggle to discover a sense of purpose in their experience abroad. This study attempts to demonstrate that students undergoing culture shock might wish to view the experience as an opportunity to consciously search for deeper meaning in their lives and their authentic selves.

The psychosynthesis perspective of culture shock

Also missing from the culture shock literature is a psychosynthesis perspective. Psychosynthesis psychology can provide an integrated and comprehensive view of the knowledge, skills, coping mechanisms, attitudes and abilities required to function in a foreign environment. Psychosynthesis also includes a spiritual dimension to the human personality and its development, a concept sorely lacking throughout most of the current research.

The conscious or unconscious search for our authentic selves, the human drive to evolve, the recognition that meaning can be found in suffering, and the need to grow in relationship with others are all key concepts to psychosynthesis psychology. As a result, psychosynthesis is an open, culturally inclusive, and holistic model that can aptly be applied to student sojourners’ experience of culture shock and their search for meaning.

How this research was conducted

These findings are based on my psychosynthesis counseling work with international students at the University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands, and observations as a teacher of academic writing and a journalist for the university newspaper, along with my own personal experience of living abroad in eleven countries.

A new model that includes the spiritual dimension

In addition to presenting culture shock in a psychosynthesis context, I have designed a new model of culture shock that attempts to include the spiritual component in relationship to the ABC framework, creating a more dynamic and integrative perspective. My hope is that this model represents a synthesis of both the universal and particular experience of culture shock, the lack of which is a major criticism against original models.

What these findings mean

In this way, a new ABCS framework and psychosynthesis approach might be applied, not only to overseas students, but also to other types of sojourners such as international business people, immigrants, and refugees in their search for meaning and personal and cultural identity.