Cultural Orientation

Travel sign post - FrameAngel

Which culture do you identify with? And to what level? Do you actively engage in the traditions, norms, and practices of a particular culture? Or do you take the salad bar approach, enjoying a little of everything of both native and host cultures? How you answered these questions may help in defining your cultural orientation. Cultural orientation is the process by which people are influenced by their culture as well as to what degree. Ones values, behaviors, and ideas can all be influenced by culture. Spoken and written language is also widely accepted as an indicator of cultural orientation.

This is an important consideration when living in multicultural societies such as the United States. However, it could apply to any number of situations where groups of people share and associate with each other. When we reflect on our lifestyles, we soon see that we belong to a number of different groups whether you associate with your kinsmen, co-workers, club, organization, family, tribe, class, etc. In each group, there are certain acceptable behaviors, traditions, and patterns that form its culture. It is crucial in social interactions to understand the relevance of culture upon an individual if communication is going to be effective. In doing so, we can understand and possibly predict the results of intercultural encounters.

Cultural orientation can also involve cognitive styles – how we think and process information. It can determine how one feels about his or her native and host cultures and the degree in which these feelings are negative (such as critical, ashamed, disappointed) or positive (as in being proud or satisfied). Sometimes these varying levels in feelings and cognition make it difficult to adapt to a new host culture that may be different from a native culture and intensify the awareness of how culturally orientated a person is. It can also make a difference to the orientation whether a person is born on native soil or overseas.

Keep in mind that cultural orientation is different than acculturation, which concerns the adaptation and adjustment of immigrants only to a new culture. Nor should it be confused with ethnic identity, which refers to how one consciously identifies with a specific cultural group.

A person who wants to study cultural orientation must remain open minded to consider another’s reasoning based on their group’s beliefs, values, and norms. However, it must be said that very few of us are perfect representations of our culture. Individual actions and outcomes are as varied as the individuals themselves. Anticipating these variations can aid us in our communication with others when cultures differ.

The book, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden is an informative and entertaining book that takes a look at the differences associated with cultural orientation. In it, the authors analyze sixty countries from Argentina to Kuwait to Thailand to Venezuela, with each chapter covering a different country. Although Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands is an essential guide for international business etiquette practices, it also offers intriguing information on each profiled country’s historical background, type of government, behavior style, and protocol. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in studying other cultures as well as taking an objective look at their own.


Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype



Models of Cultural Orientation: Differences Between American-Born and Overseas-Born Asians by Jeanne L. Tsai and Yulia Chentsova-Dutton

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden, Ph.D.


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