Cultural Transitions

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What are they?

Transitions are constantly occurring around us, and it is important to note that transitions happen to everyone. It is part of being human. It′s safe to say that any time you change or grow demonstrates the passage of a transitional phase in your life. Here are a few examples of transitions common to life as we know it: adolescence, high school, a new dating relationship, college, new job, moving, marriage, children, a death of a loved one, growing up, growing old. You really can′t go through life without them. And frankly, you wouldn′t want to.

To illustrate the prominence of transitions in our culture, take a look at just a few examples of movie plots that highlight transitions and personal growth:

Back to the Future shows the clash between different time periods.

Father of the Bride I & II are depictions of the transitional change when children grow up and the adjustment that needs to come as a result.

Legally Blonde is an example of an academic transition as Elle becomes a concerned student.

Save the Last Dance gives important insight into cultural transitions: a white, suburbanite moves into a predominantly African American inner city school.

Transitions may be an intrinsic part of life, but it does not necessarily follow that people will acknowledge this fact. Most don′t. However, the point of this Survival Guide is to get you to acknowledge, think about, prepare for, and reflect on this very important area of life. As you become better at "doing" transitions, you will be a more stable and well-adjusted human being. And let′s face it-we all know some people who are stuck in an old rut and can′t seem to adjust. Transitions are oftendifficult, but it is also possible to turn transitions into profound opportunities for learning and growth.

More specifically, though, this booklet is dedicated to informing you and preparing you for cultural transitions.

Cultural Transitions

Our culture shapes how we see the world, patterns of interaction with others, and what we consider to be good and acceptable behavior. Usually, we simply assume that the way things are for us are the way things are for everyone everywhere. Thus, we experience cultural shock when we go to a new place. The more the new culture differs from our home culture, the more difficulty we usually have in adjustment. Cultural transitions tend to be intensely difficult transitions because so much of your world is being challenged all at the same time. It can be very disorienting, thus the need for a survival guide.

One other important thing to note is the fact that God is a part of every transition. No matter how homesick or sad you may feel at certain points, God is very aware and present through it all. In fact, God is the only one in the entire universe who can actually completely understand you and everything you experience. He is the only one who will ever truly and fully share in not some, but all of your experiences. Transitions can be difficult, but usually our most significant growth comes as a result of our most significant trials. As 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."


Culture is a very abstract and very concrete thing to define all at the same time. Culture is in language, in styles of dress, in musical taste, and in food. But it′s also in the way people think, what they value, and how they respond to certain situations. When you travel cross-culturally, you will notice the outward things right away, but it usually takes a little longer to truly experience the deeper values.

Culture is learned (process of learning one's culture is called enculturation), shared by the members of a society, patterned (people in a society live and think in ways that form definite patterns), mutually constructed through a constant process of social interaction, symbolic (culture, language and thought are based on symbols and symbolic meanings), arbitrary (created by humans according to the "whims" of the society. Example: standards of beauty), and internalized (Habitual, taken-for-granted, perceived as natural.). 1

If you take note of how ingrained one′s culture is, it makes sense why cultural transitions can pose their own set of unique difficulties. When you are forced to question your culture, you will often wind up feeling extremely disoriented because a culture is deeply ingrained into one′s mind-so much so that you rarely even think to question it.

Here′s another way of thinking about culture.

"Culture is the sum total of ways of living, including values, beliefs, esthetic standards, linguistic expression, patterns of thinking, behavioral norms, and styles of communication which a group of people has developed to assure its survival in a particular physical and human environment. Culture and the people who are part of it interact so that culture is not static. Culture is the response of a group of human beings to the valid and particular needs of its members. It, therefore, has an inherent logic and an essential balance between positive and negative dimensions."2

Please rank the eight behaviors below in the order of their moral rightness as you begin to think about how cultures can possibly clash.

a woman slipping $20 to a traffic officer who intends to give her a citation

A man urinating by the road

A woman talking to another driver from out of the car window at a traffic light

A woman throwing a dishpan of water out of the window and onto the street

A man arguing vehemently on the verge of violence, raising his fists at the driver of another vehicle that had hit him

A woman kicking a cow off the path so that she can continue on her way

A man setting up a rock barrier so that people cannot continue using the street

A woman spreading out a sheet on the sidewalk, on which she intends to show items for sale (46)17

The particular scenarios you might find offensive are perfectly acceptable and commonplace in other cultures. And vice versa. It′s very important to realize ahead of time just how significant cultural differences can be.