15 A Second “Think Piece 2” Sample

Sample Think Piece 2 – Essay Choice 

“Meet my Ex-AFS Sister from Denmark”

From 3/4/2016, used with written permission from the student. The AFS student’s name and country have been changed to keep the student anonymous.

“Are you excited to meet your new sister?” My family, friends, and just about everyone in between asked me in early August; two weeks from when she would arrive. Ella [name changed] was a 16-year-old from Denmark who made the connection with us through American Field Service (AFS). I had been talking to her for two months through Facebook, knew a little bit about her, and I was excited. We took her home with us and continued to learn a little bit about each other. As the first few weeks went by, things went smoothly. We both started soccer and school, and she found some friends in her grade. Everything seemed good to me and my family and when a few problems arose, and we tried to help the best we could. However, because of miscommunication and problems seeing the verbal and nonverbal ques, two months later we were back to three people in my house. She had found that living at a different house would be better for her. We were confused, but we wanted what was best for her. There is a lot that may have gone wary, but I hypothesize that culture shock may have set a strong base for her
I learned a little about Danish culture from Emma and some from the internet. From Erling Hog and Helle Johannessen, writers of an online article all about Danish life, I learned a few concepts that differ from America. Privacy is huge, and sometimes in the US we aren’t as careful about it. In the US we aren’t usually hesitant to share our emotions and boast about accomplishments, but in Denmark, doing that is frowned upon. A similarity between the two cultures, is that the kids are usually well taken care of, and attended to (Hog and Johannessen). Emma taught me a little about her personal Danish culture and the culture of her family. Her dad owned a sports gear shop, and was the working dad. Then her mom was a teacher, who had a similar schedule to Emma and her brother. She had told me how her mom and her were close, spending a lot of time together. Also that she didn’t like her little brother, but only in the way that any older sister dislikes her little brother. They ate supper together most nights, and did a lot of stuff together. That was pretty similar to how my family was, but isn’t anymore. When my brothers and I were younger, we did many of the same things that Emma described like eating meals together. I tried my hardest to be the little sister they disliked but loved. We were fairly close and did a lot of things together. We are still a close family, but the way we go about it has changed. My brothers are both at college, each over an hour away. My dad is going back to school for nursing, and my mom works at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. I am a Post-Secondary student here at RCTC, and work a great amount. We all have our own things going on, and are very independent from each other. There is a lot of trust that comes with it, and that helps us stay close. When it comes to family gatherings, we fall into our closeness and everything goes smoothly. A downfall from all of the independency is the strain on communication. We are not great about talking about feelings, or really many things. I have come to recognize it and I have adapted myself to work with them. I was used to the way my family had come to be, but for Emma, who came from her family, I realize how difficult it may have been.
Culture shock is described with an example in the book by Mary Fong, associate professor at California State University. She used the example of Chinese immigrant participants (CIPs). When seeing how much European Americans dole out compliments they “reported feeling uncomfortable, unnatural, uneasy, nervous, stressed, embarrassed, shocked, or afraid” (Fong 277). That is just one example. Before this experience, I thought of culture shock as something of a small scale that goes away fast. But now through personal experience and learning through class, I know culture shock as the feeling and emotions felt when someone is fully immersed in a new culture. Especially a culture that is very different than the one they are used to. It’s easier to see the major differences in the cultures now that I am outside of the situation. It took me a long time to come to be able to navigate this independent family and realize what kind of things are different. But I had years of the things that were changing and developing along with them. Even my friends have said they have feelings of being uncomfortable because my family id different from theirs. So if American born kids experience a little shock, I can’t imagine what Emma was feeling exactly but I got an idea. For the purpose of this essay, I spent time with my subject by contacting Emma to see if she would be open to a few questions about how her experience was. I made sure she knew she didn’t have to answer any question she didn’t want to, but she was really nice about it. I asked her a few questions including ones about culture shock and the range of emotions she was feeling. The information that I learned were both things I had inferred, and things that surprised by. She was very uncomfortable in my house; she felt alone. My father was often studying, and I was often out of the house so I understand. She described feeling very stressed about not making great connections with my family members. When I asked her if she thought she was in culture shock, and when I explained what it was in detail, she quickly remarked that was how it felt for her. She also mentioned that she found it hard to express her feelings to us, and when she tried they weren’t understood the way she intended (Emma XXXXX.

Culture shock was part of the problem, but just as much as communication was. The two sides of communication are the non-verbal and verbal sides. The verbal has to do with language and spoken words creating meanings. Emma spoke very good English, and had little trouble understanding what we were saying. There wasn’t a language border between us. However there were some connotative meanings to the words being said that were misinterpreted or missed altogether. She sometimes commented on how bored she was, and I took that as wanting to find something new to do. However, after examination, I realize she was bored of being by herself and wanted me or my parents to do things with her. My parents were better at that than I was. I had little free time and had to say I was ‘busy’ a lot of the time. I used it in the denotative meaning of not having a lot of extra time, and she said later that she took it as me not wanting to do things with her.

One example of miscommunication was during a football game I said I had to work during. I ended up getting the night off and went to the football game and saw her there. We talked there and everything seemed fine, but I learned later that she thought I just didn’t want to go to the game with her. Writers on communication between cultures L.A. Samovar, R.E. Porter, and E.R. McDaniel, say “the type of language used to express intimacy, respect, affiliation, formality, distance, and other emotions can help you sustain a relationship or disengage from one” (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel 268). I agree completely after going through this, because the verbal communication impaired the sustaining of a relationship and unfortunately aided in disengaging one. The problem we had with nonverbal communication was the ones we missed from Emma. Nonverbal communication is described by Samovar, Porter and McDaniel in the ninth chapter of the same book as “all the nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting that are generated by both the source and his/her use of the environment and that have a potential message value for the source and/or receiver” (297). One thing I noticed was how she used our house (the environment). When I was home, I saw she spent a lot of time in her room. She said she would be doing homework, then she stayed in her room for most of the night. The times she was out in the living room or family room she spent time on her phone. To be fair I spent time on my phone too. She said she talked to her friends and family back home a lot, and I think she was very homesick. My family thought this too so we gave her some space. I now know that she felt so alone in the house that she needed to connect with people elsewhere.

The words not said were even more misinterpreted than the ones that were. Combined, nonverbal and verbal communication inside our “family” had affected Emma enough to leave the situation. All together there were many things I learned that affected what happened in November. Though there were no language barriers, the barriers of other types, aided in Emma’s final decision to move to a different family. First, the great differences between the family she was used to and this new American family made her feel uncomfortable and built up the first barrier. The second was brought on by the misinterpreting of verbal messages all around. Finally, the nonverbal cues that were not given attention made her feel alone and built up the third barrier. If the situation with my family was different, I think it would have been possible to break down the barriers and work as a family. I understand that the situation wasn’t different, and understand her need to be more comfortable as soon as possible. Emma is living with a family of younger students, and a lifestyle that she is more comfortable with. My family and I are glad she found somewhere she is comfortable and happy. Overall, I think we just hope that this situation doesn’t make her look back on this experience as a negative one.

Works Cited
Fong, Mary. “The Nexus of Language, Communication, and Culture”. Intercultural Communication. 13th Ed. Larry Samovar, Richard Porter, Edwin McDaniel. Boston:
Wadsworth, 2012. 271-279. Print.
XXXXX, HXXX. Personal Interview. 3/1/2016.
Hog, Erling and Johannasen, Helle. Countries and Their Cultures. Advameg, Inc. 2016. Web. 3/2/2016.
Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., & McDaniel, E. R. (2017). Communication Between Cultures. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Print.


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Developing Intercultural Communication Competence Copyright © 2018 by Lori Halverson-Wente is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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