A journey into the unknown

Ten years back, as I settled down in my seat for a long flight from Delhi to Los Angeles, all I felt was a gut wrenching sense of loneliness and apprehension for the unknown. While excitement seems to be the dominant feeling experienced by majority of my peers, I could not understand why I felt so differently. As I spent the next few months, trying to get adjusted to the new environment, I considered possible explanations for the differences.


Common sense tells us that we experience positive emotions when we believe we are getting something that we want. In this instance, that “something” is making the long journey from India to the U.S. Someone who believes that such a transition would give him/her the chance to enjoy life better will look forward to making that trip. On the other hand, if someone feels that he/she is being forced to give up a comfortable and familiar environment because the circumstance requires him/her to make the move, then it will not hold the same kind of appeal for him/her. Thus, the reason behind making such moves from one’s home country to a new one is important in determining how he/she feels about it.


Another factor that will determine how a person deals with such changes in life has to do with the individual’s personality. Some people are naturally more open to new cultural experiences while others feel more comfortable with what they are familiar with. People who experience anxiety in an unknown setting will probably find it more challenging when forced to deal with such situations. Needless to say, I fell in this latter category.


Add to this the list of unknowns in the equation due to our limited knowledge of a new culture. What if I unknowingly do something against the local culture’s norms? How am I expected to interact with the people in the new environment? What if they don’t approve of how I talk, eat, dress etc.? The list goes on and on.


No matter what the situation is, in today’s shrinking world, it is difficult to avoid contact with other cultures. So, while we have limited control on why we are in different cultural environment and the type of personality we have, we can try to improve our emotional state of mind in a cross-cultural setting by obtaining information to reduce our ignorance about a target culture and learning how to adapt.


Ten years back, when I sat in the plane, I was feeling quite overwhelmed. Since then, I have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the cultural differences between India and U.S. and how best to bridge such cultural gaps. Subsequently, when I did my Ph.D., my research revolved around such cross-cultural issues – for instance, the factors that determine the acceptance of a person from a different culture in a host culture, the effect of personality on such acceptance, the impact of cultural intelligence of all parties involved on their mutual interaction etc.


Today, I have gained enough understanding so as to be able to help not only myself, but also others cope with the challenges of cross-cultural interactions. Unknown to us, a lot of other people also face issues that we do. It not helps only us, but also those others, when such issues are discussed. With this in mind, if you have some thoughts or questions that you would like to share with me, please feel free to do so.

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  1. Khushi

    I think what you say about other people also facing these issues unknown to us is very right. I think if we knew that they go through a similar situation it would make life easier for us.

  2. Anonymous

    This is indeed an interesting topic. One of the issues I faced when I joined and still face is that people see Discovery channel programs and ask me questions about my country. These programs dont reflect whats going on economically so I feel that they are treating me like an exotic creature. What is the best response. I dont know.

  3. Smitha

    Anonymous!!! I get those questions too..Some weeks back in discovery channel they should some people ( dark skinned) people eating human…This guy was asking me if it was India….

  4. winfried

    When I get asked where Venezuela is, I tell them in South America, just take I85 and go south until u get there…hehehehe

  5. Suki

    You are right that the attitude makes all the difference. And I think thats why so many immigrants succeed – the decide early on to overrule the feelings of being scrutinized

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