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Testing the Integrative Theory of Cross-Cultural Adaptation: A Student’s Experience in Italy and Spain- Benjamin Harvey

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To test the applicability of Kim’s integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation it is necessary to approach the theory in a holistic sense and not as a collection of independent theoretical pieces. As Kim points out, “the change from sojourner with an ethnic identity to an assimilated individual with an intercultural identity is a process rich in complexity, with a myriad of influential forces pushing and pulling in multiple directions but ending in an individual, changed, in varying degrees, by the experience” (Kim 2003)

While Kim’s theory includes empirically testable theorems for each of the ‘forces’ involved in the adaptation process, testing an individual theorem would be only minimally helpful in terms of validating the theory because it would only look at one aspect of adaptation in one direction and neglect the influence of all the other factors. Even a more ambitious project of empirically testing all 21 theorems would neglect explaining how all the theorems work together as a whole. It is the meaning and experience behind the axioms and theorems which change an interesting way of predicting outcomes in the process of adaptation into understanding of that process. This study seeks to test Kim’s theory as a whole from an ethnographic-case study perspective.

Literature Review

Kim’s integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation is a comprehensive theory grounded in the open-system perspective. Drawing on a broad array of communication, psychological and sociological research, Kim’s theory attempts to increase understanding of the process of intercultural adaptation with special emphasis on the following five areas: 1. The effects of both macro (cultural and

Cross-Cultural Adaptation 3
institutional patterns of host culture) and micro (individual backgrounds and
psychological characteristics) level factors on the cross-cultural adaptation process. 2.
The integration of short and long term adaptation investigation in the interest of
identifying common conceptual issues.  3.  The understanding of cross-cultural
adaptation in the context of both new learning and psychological growth in order to

form a more complete understanding of the cross-cultural adaptation process. 4. The organization and consolidation of factors influencing the cross cultural adaptation process. 5. The incorporation of both pluralistic and assimilation ideological viewpoints.

Kim sets the following three boundaries on the theory to define the situations in which cross-cultural adaptation occurs: 1.The strangers have had a primary socialization in one culture (or subculture) and have moved into a different and unfamiliar culture (or subculture). 2. The strangers are at least minimally dependent on the host environment for meeting their personal and social needs. 3. The strangers are at least minimally engaged in firsthand communication experiences with that environment.

Kim’s process based approach to understanding cross-cultural adaptation focuses on the transformation of the stranger or sojourner within the boundary conditions of socialization, dependence and contact; and operates under the following assumptions: 1. Humans have an innate self-organizing drive and capacity to adapt to environmental challenges. (White 1976) 2. Adaptation of an individual to a given cultural environment occurs in and through communication. (Slavin & Kriegman 1992) 3. Adaptation is a complex and dynamic process that brings about a qualitative transformation of the individual. (Ford & Lerner 1992)

Within these boundaries and assumptions Kim claims the Sojourner goes through a continuous cycle of stress and adaptation which results in growth over time which Kim calls the Stress-Adaptation-Growth dynamic. (Ruben 1983) The inability to communicate competently results in stress which increases the motivation to adapt, this is followed by growth and further experimentation leading to more stress and the cycle repeats itself.

Over time this cycle results in the three facets Kim identifies as synonymous to intercultural adaptation: 1. Functional fitness which is being capable of fulfilling your needs within the society, having communication competence or knowing how to be both effective and appropriate are skills developed through shared meaning and having interpersonal interactions (which view the other as an individual and not a group representative) rather than inter-group interactions. 2. Psychological health which involves minimizing the gap between internal and external reality. While psychological disturbance is associated with being unable to meet personal needs within the society. Increased functional fitness corresponds with increased psychological health, inner cohesiveness and a decrease in symptoms of distress like withdraw, denial and hostility. 3. Intercultural Identity which is a feeling of not specifically belonging to any culture but being part of multiple cultures, boundary ambiguity syndrome (Hall 1976) in which the original identity loses some of its rigidity.

Kim identified five constructs which are factors in adaptation; personal communication, host social communication, ethnic social communication, environmental factors, and predisposition. These factors have an impact on what Kim calls intercultural transformation which is the process of reaching functional fitness, psychological health, and intercultural identity.

Kim breaks communication competence down into three parts: cognitive, affective, and operational. The cognitive aspect of communication competence is split into an individual’s knowledge of the communication system, cultural understanding, and cognitive complexity. According to Kim knowledge of the host communication system is primarily knowledge of the language, but this includes not just linguistic knowledge of vocabulary, syntax and phonetics; but also knowledge of social codes and the way language is used in formal and informal settings. Also within the realm of knowledge of the communication system are non verbal codes in the form of vocal and physical ancillary codes, ritualized actions, ceremonies, standardized behaviors and the rhythm and pace of social interactions. Cultural understanding, and obtaining a full knowledge of the communication codes of the host culture involves an extensive understanding of the historical, political, economic, religious, and educational institutions as well as its values, ideologies, arts, sciences, technologies, attitudes, beliefs, values, and reciprocal role requirements. (Sechres, Fay & Zaidi 1982) Kim claims the sojourner’s initial knowledge of the host culture is simplistic and stereotypical, but that through interaction with the host environment they gain proficiency in understanding the host culture.

Cognitive complexity refers to the refinement of screening categories which are used to process information. The higher the level of cognitive complexity is and the more accurately the information can be classified and understood, the greater differentiation and integration there will be. Conversely low cognitive complexity is associated with more simplistic, stereotypical, and incohesive interpretation. Kim says that the sojourner develops greater communication competence in parallel with developing greater cognitive complexity which allows them the flexibility to distinguish between perspectives within the host culture.

The affective aspect of host communication competence is composed of the individual’s adaptation motivation, identity flexibility, and aesthetic co orientation. Adaptation motivation or the willingness to adapt and become functionally fit is played out as an internal conflict between the persons self-command to act and their resistance to acting. This conflict is influenced and influences how the stranger envisions their relationship with the host environment. One of the key factors in adaptation motivation is the expectation of a future relationship with the host culture; therefore those who expect to live in the host culture for a long time tend to have a stronger motivation to adapt and thus expend more effort in learning about the host culture (Atken 1973). In general a temporary sojourner has a low motivation to adapt because they do not expect to use the knowledge they acquire over the long term. Identity flexibility refers to the psycho/social orientation of individual strangers in terms of how they view themselves, their host culture, and their original culture. Flexibility is associated with higher openness and lower prejudicial cynicism toward new cultural experiences. In contrast identity rigidity is associated with in-group bias and an unreasonable desire to maintain a critical and closed minded posture. Underlying the effects associated with rigid identity is the concept of frustration-aggression (Berkowitz, 1962; Zajonc, 1952), which connects the blockage of a goal with aggression. The aggression is sometimes subtle and not always directed toward the actual source of frustration, but they are often manifested in anger and hostility toward the host environment in general.

Aesthetic co orientation refers to what degree the sojourner shares the aesthetic preferences of the host culture. If the sojourner finds them repellent or is unable to participate in them they will have to resort to the ethnic subculture to fulfill aesthetic needs. If they find themselves in a culture where they share similar aesthetic values they will be inside of the host culture and have a greater sense of connection.

The operational aspect or ability to express one’s cognitive and affective experience outwardly through specific behaviors aspect of host communication competence is made up of technical skills, synchrony, and resourcefulness. Technical skills are the skills necessary to do day to day tasks and fill social roles. Skills include job skills, basic language skills, academic skills, and the ability to locate sources of information necessary to function within society. Synchrony refers to the ability of the sojourner to effectively communicate with people from the host culture in ways that are compatible, congruent, and harmonious. This amounts to convergence within the realm of interaction rhythm and action chains, and includes temporal, proxemic, paralinguistic, and kinesic convergence patterns (Hall 1983). This synchrony is split into asymmetrical (complementary) and symmetrical (mirroring) behavioral adjustments. Synchrony is developed through contact with the host culture and through trial and error, it is considered to be more difficult than acquiring technical skills. Resourcefulness refers to the ability to understand and reconcile cultural differences and use that understanding to come up with plans of action. It is used in day to day interactions such as face to face encounters, maintaining relationships with members of host culture, information seeking behavior, problem solving, and accomplishing goals. Higher levels of resourcefulness are associated with an increase in the quality of interpersonal encounters, more effective coping with differences and an increase in identity security which allows sojourner to negotiate different identities on a situational and appropriate basis. There is little research explaining how resourcefulness can be developed although there are several studies which tie it to communication competence and behavioral flexibility.

Kim breaks host social communication down into interpersonal communication and mass communication. Host interpersonal communication refers to the interaction on an interpersonal level between the sojourner and member of the host culture. Host interpersonal communication is used to learn host cultural practices, engage in corrective exchanges, confirm or reject presumed meanings in communication behavior of natives, and provide emotional support. Development of interpersonal communication and formation of relationships with members of the host culture are normally constrained by both physical and social circumstances. They are normally voluntary in nature and are based on mutual interest and willingness. The most observable pattern of relationship formation is that of personal networks. The number of host ties is important because it is associated with successful adaptation even while its difficulty is high due to both psychological barriers and language. Strangers develop, increase, the number of host contacts with time. The composition of the relational network changes with time but its size remains roughly constant. In the beginning it is composed primarily of co ethnics but this gradually changes as ethnic ties are replaced by host ties. The strength of host ties are comprised of their intimacy and centrality. Intimacy is best defined by Atman and Taylor’s social penetration theory in terms of breadth and depth of mutual self disclosure. Centrality is the importance of the contact to the ego, as compared to others in the personal network. A contact could be central but not intimate or vice versa.

Host mass communication is the means through which the host culture is distributed and perpetuated. It includes both traditional media such as radio, television, and newspapers; and also non media based institutions such as schools, churches, businesses, theaters or any public form where communication takes place in a culturally ritualized form. Host mass communication functions as a force in the adaptation process by transmitting topical events, societal values, behavioral norms, and traditional environmental interpretation perspectives.

Ethnic social communication can be split into the same categories as host social communication. In terms of this theory Kim assumes the total sphere of personal contacts remains roughly constant while it composition can shift from primarily ethnic to primarily host during the adaptation process. The adaptive trends correlated with the amount of host social communication are therefore inversely proportional to the amount of ethnic social communication. There are two areas in which ethnic social communication impacts adaptation. First is the positive short term adaptation-facilitating function which shows that over the short term many strangers seek out ethnic communication as a refuge and method to relieve cross cultural stress. This is partly because, according to Berger’s uncertainty reduction theory, there is less relational uncertainty from co-ethnics than from the host culture. The availability of ethnic communication is a function of the institutional completeness of the ethnic group in the host culture. Co-ethnics with higher levels of adaptation, more contacts and a higher understanding of the host culture can act as ‘gate keepers’ for the stranger to the host culture. The second is the long term ethnicity-maintenance function. Over the long term social communication with co-ethnic groups can be counterproductive by creating an insulating effect. If the personal network reinforces ethnic communication it can minimize the stranger’s learning about the host culture. Reliance on ethnic communication beyond the adaptive phase is associated with the stranger identifying more strongly with their home culture than the host culture. This is true for both interpersonal communication – when the stranger is surrounded by co-ethnics in a community; and mass communication – when the stranger chooses to view primarily co-ethnic news media which focuses on information about their home culture.

Kim splits the environment construct into host receptivity, host conformity pressure, and ethnic group strength. Host receptivity refers to the willingness of the host culture to accept and accommodate strangers with opportunities to take part in social communication. From the perspective of the stranger this is considered accessibility, or opportunity for contact. Receptivity is comprised of the host’s attitude toward strangers and the host’s associative/dissociative communication messages. Receptivity can be largely expressed in terms of both public and private attitudes, in a continuum from highly open, friendly, and accepting to very closed, indifferent, and hostile. The degree of receptivity can be affected both by circumstantial factors and by the confidence of the host group. Associative and dissociative communication messages take the form of both implicit and explicit messages that range from public laws and policies to the behaviors of individuals in face to face encounters. Associative communication facilitates the communication process between the stranger and the host while dissociative behavior makes it more difficult. The communication messages can be used to increase or decrease the communicative distance between the stranger and the guest.

Conformity pressure is a combination of the conscious and unconscious pressure on the stranger to adopt the practices of the host culture, and the tolerance of the host in respect to cultural practices different from their own. Pressure to conform in linguistic and cultural terms is increased by the strangers dependence on the host culture for livelihood, and the pursuit of personal goals. An important factor in conformity pressure is the contrast between assimilative or pluralist ideology. The first encourages conformity while the second encourages ethnic distinctiveness. It is also important to note that an ethnic composition which is primarily comprised of one ethnicity will/may have more pressure to conform than one made up of multiple groups.

Ethnic group strength refers to the relative status accorded to the ethnic group in terms of prestige, institutional completeness, and identity politics. It is comprised of ethnic prestige, institutional completeness, and identity politics. Ethnic prestige, which is closely associated with socioeconomic status, is the social standing attributed to the ethnic group in comparison to other groups in society. Prestige increases interest of the host culture in the ethnic group and decreases conformity pressure. Institutional completeness is the degree to which the ethnic community has adjusted in terms of economic security, then community building, and finally self-assertion in the existing political system. The further they have moved toward self-assertion the greater their prestige within the host culture. The ability to develop community and political power is tied to the size of the ethnic group. The power of an ethnic group can be detrimental to adaptation, if the ethnic community is large and strong when both the need to adapt and the contact with the host culture are lower. Identity politics refers to the relative power of an ethnic group in comparison to other groups, as well as the competition for power between ethnic groups and the host culture. Conformity pressure on members is exercised by the ethnic group to increase unity, while the host culture emphasizes differences and increases conformity pressure as well in an attempt to maintain the existing power differential. This is manifested in the concept of ‘going native’ from the perspective of the stranger.

Predisposition refers to the personal state of the stranger when they arrive in the host culture, what type of background they have, and what types of experience they have before joining the host culture. The composite of these factors give the overall the adaptation potential of the stranger. Kim breaks predisposition down into preparedness for change, ethnic proximity, and adaptive personality.

Preparedness for change refers to the degree in which the stranger is prepared to change, their understanding of the host culture and communication system, and how realistic their expectations are. It is comprised of education/training, prior cross cultural experience, and voluntary/planned relocation. A higher level of education, regardless of cultural context, prepares strangers for new learning. It also increases the chance that they have been exposed to the language, geography, and history of the host culture. This will help them have more realistic expectations for the host culture. In addition to general education, specific training in both language and culture, provided prior to traveling can facilitate adaptation. (Furnham & Bochner, 1982) Previous travel outside of the home culture also helps prepare strangers to adapt to the host culture (Selltiz, Havel & Coock, 1963), even when the culture visited was not similar to the host culture. Voluntary, and planned relocations are associated with quicker and more complete adaptation, partly because the planned relocation allows more time to prepare.

Ethnic proximity is a broad reference to the degree of similarity or difference between the stranger and the host culture. In the context of this theory ethnicity refers to both internal background traits such as thought processes, values, social orientations, and to externally visible physical or material markers. Ethnic proximity can affect adaptation in both terms of overall similarity and compatibility. Ethnic similarity is important intergroup interaction situations. In general the more visible the ethnic marker is the greater the chance of psychological posturing. This could be in the form of treating the person as an ethnic stereotype rather than an individual in interpersonal situations. Ethnic compatibility focuses on the low visibility, internal, ethnic markers; differences in values and communication patterns which can increase the difficulty of adaptation even when the external factors are similar. In the context of this theory adaptive personality refers to the relatively constant ways in which different people respond to environmental stimuli. While not all aspects of personality are examined, the three Kim deems most relevant to intercultural adaptation are openness, strength and positivity. Openness refers to the threshold of receptivity (Stewart & Healy 1985) toward external stimuli. It is associated with the following variables such as open mindedness, risk taking, gregariousness, extroversion, readiness, motivation for self development, and willingness to communicate. Strength refers to the way the stranger copes with stress. It could be considered synonyms with coping capacity and the ability to continue to make things work under stress. Positivity refers to the tendency to look at the hopeful side of things despite their negative aspects. It facilitates engagements with social processes and is more likely to be met with positive response.

Kim synthesizes the assumptions and constructs to form 10 axioms and 21 theorems which relate the variables in the six construct areas to predict increased or decreased effectiveness in the facets of intercultural transformation.

Testing the Theory

Kim’s theory is testable through ethnography and case study such as that described in Ethnographic Interviewing (Marshall & Rossman, 1989, pp 93-94) and Qualitative Interviewing (Rubin & Rubin, 1995). Kim states the following, “The Theory … seeks to achieve a loose correspondence with the reality of cross-cultural

adaptation…” (Kim, p, 29). Susan Soy states, “Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research” (Soy 1997). The ability of case study to capture complex issues makes it a useful tool for answering the central question of how accurately Kim’s theory achieves its goal of correspondence with the complex reality of cross-cultural adaptation.

This study seeks to test Kim’s theory by comparing the predictions of the 21 theorems with the reality of two personal adaptation experiences in different cultures with different surrounding factors. The first was a three month unplanned stay in Italy Italy where I had to meet all of my needs in the host society without support from my home culture. I found a job and an apartment but struggled to fit in. The second was a planned three month stay as a language student in Salamanca, Spain which mirrored a typical university study abroad program in that classes were my primary activities, I pre-paid for my housing and was only minimally dependent on the host culture for survival. Both experiences fit within Kim’s boundary conditions for the process based theory of intercultural adaptation; primary socialization in one culture and then moved to a different culture, at least minimally dependent on the host culture for meeting personal and social needs, and at least minimally engaged in first hand communication experiences with the host environment.

The theorems are based on Kim’s constructs in the form of comparative statements, the greater the X; then the greater the Y. For organizational clarity I will briefly review the constructs and compare the two sojourns in terms of host communication competence, host communication, ethnic communication, environment, predisposition and intercultural transformation. I will then apply the comparisons to the theorems to generate predictive statements and compare those statements to my experience.


Host Communication Competence

Host Communication Competence is split into cognitive, affective and operational competence. The cognitive aspect is made up of knowledge of the communication system, cultural understanding and cognitive complexity. Before starting my sojourns I spoke Spanish not Italian; so while my knowledge of social codes was similar for both. In terms of cultural understanding I had fewer preconceptions and stereotypes about Spanish than Italians to start. My cognitive complexity increased throughout this study, my sojourn in Spain was after the one in Italy. Over all I had greater cognitive communication competence in Spain.

The affective part of host communication competence is made up of adaptation motivation, identity flexibility and aesthetic co orientation. I had a high motivation to adapt in both cultures but the motivations were different. In Italy I was motivated by basic needs like getting a job, finding an apartment and earning enough money to live. In Spain I was motivated by a desire to learn the language and the culture because I wanted to seek a career which used this type of understanding. My Identity flexibility was relatively consistent across both cultures as was my aesthetic co orientation.

Operational competence is made up of technical skills, synchrony and resourcefulness. My technical skills were clearly higher in Spain because of my language skills. Synchrony was perhaps slightly higher in Spain because of practice in Italy. However resourcefulness was similar across both cultures.

Host Communication

Host communication is split into interpersonal and mass communication. Host interpersonal communication is made up of the size and proportion of the host ties and the strength of those ties. I had more ties with the host culture when I was in Italy than in Spain. I had daily contact with my employer, roommates who were member of the host culture and through them I came into contact with many of their friends and acquaintances. By contrast in Spain, while I did have daily contact with Spanish teachers in a class room setting, all of my social contacts were classmates rather than people from the host culture. In Italy the ties I had to the host culture were also stronger and more central. I had several close Italian friends in Italy but equivalent friendships is Spain were all with people from outside the host culture.

Host mass communication is composed of the amount of host media used and the information oriented use of the host media. I used much more host media in Spain than in Italy. In Spain I read Spanish newspapers online, read Spanish books for entertainment and watched Spanish television. In Italy I did none of these things for entertainment and only used Italian sources of information where there was no alternative.

Ethnic Communication

Ethnic communication is also split into interpersonal and mass communication. Ethnic interpersonal communication is divided into the size and proportion of ethnic ties and the strength of those ties. I had no ties with Americans in Italy, but some of my contacts were with English speakers from other cultures. In Spain I had more contact with Americans, and a lot of contact with people from other parts of Europe. The strength of ethnic ties was obviously higher in Spain since I did not really have any in Italy.

Ethnic mass communication is made up of the amount of ethnic media used and the information seeking nature of that media. I used more ethnic mass communication in Italy than in Spain. I read books in English for entertainment, did not watch Italian television and stuck to American newspapers online. In Spain I mostly used host media.

I also used ethnic media in Italy to gain information. I looked for jobs in Rome on websites geared toward English speakers because I assumed if I were to get a job it would be one where knowing English was more important than knowing Italian. In Spain I did not really have to use ethnic media for information at all. Everything I wanted to know was available and understandable to me in Spanish.


Environmental factors are comprised of host receptivity, host conformity pressure and ethnic group strength. Host receptivity is split into positive attitude toward strangers, inclusive and associative communication messages. When it came to positive attitude toward strangers the Italians I had contact with in Rome did not seem to have a positive attitude towards tourists, eastern Europeans or Africans. The Spanish I met seemed more accepting of foreign students. I did not observe a significant difference in inclusive or associative communication messages.

Host conformity pressure is made up of assimilative ideologies and homogeneous ethnic composition. I felt slightly more host conformity pressure in Italy than in Spain. In my job in Italy there was strong pressure to conform to the norms and expectations not only with my employment but also with the community of tourism business people which were loosely networked with my employer. The impact of homogeneous ethnic composition was not quite as relevant. Salamanca Spain is home to a large university with a significant number of foreign students who bring diversity; Rome Italy is a huge and ancient city which has had a large number of tourists and immigrants probably as long as it has been the home of the Vatican.

Ethnic group strength is seen through ethnic prestige, institutional completeness and identity politics. The ethnic prestige of United States students in Salamanca was average, they seemed to be accepted by the host culture as not much worse than all the other students. In Rome however, people from the United States were usually assumed to be a bit denser than most tourists with very little prestige. In Italy and Spain the institutional completeness seemed roughly the same as did the identity politics.


Predisposition is made up of preparedness for change, ethnic proximity and adaptive personality. Preparedness for change is comprised of education and training, prior cross-cultural experience and voluntary verses planned relocation. I had more relevant education preparing for Spain because I had taken classes in the language. I also had more cross-cultural experience both because I had been to Spain once before and because my trip to Spain followed adapting to Italy for three months so I had developed some experience working in an unfamiliar culture. Another key difference was that my stay in Italy was unplanned, I found myself stuck there unexpectedly. When I went to Spain I had planned out where I would stay, what I would do and how I would pay for it which made things in Spain much easier.

Ethnic proximity is made up of ethnic similarity and compatibility. I did not experience a great difference in either of these aspects.

Adaptive personality refers to openness, strength and positivity. When it comes to openness I like to think that I am open but I learned I have some trouble accepting different values. One of the biggest challenges I faced in Italy was learning and accepting the concept of bargaining and reconciling with my perceptions of honesty and fairness. But even with these challenges I think my level of openness stayed roughly the same across both sojourns although I might have become more accepting of different points of view through facing challenges to what I thought were my open values. The same is true for strength and positivity. They were roughly the same across both sojourns but were probably increased slightly through facing and coming through challenges.

Intercultural Transformation

Intercultural transformation is broken down into changes in functional fitness, psychological health and intercultural identity. Functional fitness is specifically perceptual mutuality, lack of psychological alienation and socioeconomic status. In terms of perceptual mutuality I felt more a part of the Italian Culture at the end of my stay in Italy than in I felt a part of Spanish culture in Salamanca. In Spain I never bridged the gap between foreign student and participant in the culture; I came a student and left a student. When I arrived in Italy I was simply a tourist but I quickly made the change to a member of culture. Psychological alienation was also stronger in Spain than in Italy. Socioeconomic status was harder to rate. In Italy I had some income but it was very low, low enough to put me at the bottom of the economic chain. In Spain I had student status with no income but perceived to be wealthy by the host culture because I was an American student.

Psychological health is indicated by the presence or lack of hostility to the host environment, mental illness and culture shock symptoms. Over all I was more strained in Italy at the beginning than Spain, but better toward the end. My hostility toward host environment was more frequent with Italian culture than with Spanish culture, especially at the beginning of my sojourn. I also experienced more culture shock symptoms in Italy than in Spain but I did not develop any symptoms of mental illness in either sojourn.

Intercultural identity split into individualization and universilization of identity. My intercultural identity developed more in Italy than in Spain. I started in Italy with a more definitive idea of my identity and morality, these ideas were challenged and some of them remained while others changed. I did not face the same level of identity challenges in Spain so there was not as much development.


1. The greater the host communication competence, the greater the host interpersonal and mass communication.

The theorem predicts greater host interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This matches my experience for mass communication where I had choices available but not for interpersonal communication where my contacts were determined by my situation. In Italy I had a job at a hostel, my boss and a couple of my co workers were Italian. I found an apartment which I shared with four other people, two from Italy, one from Poland and one from Sweden. These were the people I had the most contact with, they all spoke Italian and even the foreign people had been living in Italy long enough to develop local friends who, along with my roommates comprised most of my interpersonal contacts. In Spain I enrolled in a language school and I had two basic groups of contacts, the teachers at the school who I only had contact with in the classroom, and the other students, none of which were Spanish. Because Salamanca was a university town there were lots of students from a variety of places, and it was much easier to develop friendships with them than it was to meet locals.

The major source of mass communication for me was the internet where there were choices of host or ethnic communication available. In Italy I used ethnic mass communication instead of host because it was so much faster and easier to read something in English than to try to struggle through it in Italian. I also stuck with English books for entertainment. In Spain my Spanish language skills were much better and I was focused on trying to learn the language. I stuck to reading Spanish newspapers on the internet, bought books in Spanish for entertainment and watched Spanish television.

2. The greater the host communication competence, the lesser the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication

Theorem predicts less ethnic interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This does not match my experience; I had less ethnic interpersonal contact in Italy than in Spain, although I used less ethnic mass communication in Spain than in Italy. The only ethnic interpersonal communication I had with people from the United States was brief and superficial communication with guests at the hotel where I was working. It was mostly doing the mechanics of selling them a room, checking them in, explaining the hotel rules and answering questions related to tourism in Italy.

In Spain even though my communication competence was higher I had much more opportunity to make friends with other students, many of whom were from the United States, than I had to interact with Spanish people. This may have been different if I had been studying a subject other than Spanish.

3. The greater the host communication competence, the greater the intercultural transformation.

Theorem predicts intercultural transformation increasing with intercultural communication competence. This corresponds with my experience in that in both sojourns my communication competence and intercultural transformation both increased over time. The theorem also seems to suggest that communication competence drives intercultural transformation. If this were true I should have experienced greater intercultural transformation in Spain where my communication competence was higher than in Italy where it was comparatively low. This did not match my experience, I found myself much more challenged and driven to change in Italy than in Spain.

4.  The greater the host interpersonal and mass communication, the lesser the ethnic

interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts less ethnic interpersonal communication in Italy than Spain and less ethnic mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This theorem corresponds with my experience. Throughout both sojourns the amount of time I spent using mass communication and interpersonal communication remained consistent. Given that there was an approximately set amount of time spent on each communication type the ethnic versus host content within each would be inversely proportional to each other.

5. The greater the host interpersonal and mass communication, the greater the intercultural transformation.

Theorem predicts greater intercultural transformation in Italy than in Spain. This corresponds with my experience. In Italy I went from a complete newcomer who knew nothing about the city to being a relatively well adjusted participant in the culture. I had found a job and apartment and made local friends. In Spain the only host interpersonal contacts I really had were my teachers in a class room setting. While this greatly increased my language competence it did not help me feel more part of the community.

6. The greater the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication, the lesser the intercultural transformation.

Theorem predicts greater intercultural transformation in Italy than in Spain. This corresponds with my experience. In Spain I started out as a language student and stayed a language student the entire time. The vast majority of the people I interacted with socially were also language students which made it much more difficult to step beyond the student identity and join the host culture.

7. The greater the host receptivity and host conformity pressure, the greater the host communication competence.

Theorem predicts greater communication competence in Italy than in Spain. This corresponds with my experience. In general the conformity pressure in Italy and in Spainwas probably similar, but for my specific situation working in a small hotel in Italy the conformity pressure was much higher. I had to accept the values related to bargaining and cooperation between the other local members of the tourism industry in Italy as more important than my United States values concerning fair play and cooperation. This pressure to conform forced me to develop new communication skills which were more suited to the Italian way of life. As a student in Spain I did not face new challenges of that kind because being a student in Spain was much like being a student in the United States.

8. The greater the host receptivity and host conformity pressure, the greater the host interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts more host interpersonal and mass communication in Italy than in Spain. This corresponds with my experience in terms of host interpersonal communication, but in my situation it did not hold for mass communication. Again the requirements of my job in Italy forced me to participate in more host interpersonal communication. Mass communication did not seem to be impacted by host receptivity and conformity pressure. Perhaps if I had been more involved in commonly talked about mass communication events like soccer matches or regular Italian television programs I would have noticed more of a difference. As it was most of my mass communication experiences were solitary experiences via internet where the impact of conformity pressure was very low and the choices of what type of mass communication to use was very open.

9. The greater the host receptivity and host conformity pressure, the lesser ethnic interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts less ethnic interpersonal and mass communication in Italy than in Spain. This matches my experience for interpersonal but not mass communication. In Italy the pressure from my employer was to not make friends with guests at the hotel, she explicitly told me that I worked for her and not for them. From her perspective she wanted to discourage ethnic loyalty in an employee who she believed would set a lower prices for co-ethnic contacts than an Italian employee would. For example room rates were in part determined by how much a guest was expected to be willing to pay. People from the United States, England or Japan were normally quoted higher prices than those from Italy, Spain or South America. Mass communication was a more solitary affair and as stated before it did not seem to be impacted by host conformity pressure.

10. The greater the ethnic group strength, the lesser the host communication competence.

Theorem predicts lower communication competence in Spain than in Italy. This does not really match my experience because I started in Spain with higher host communication competence than in Italy, this was due mostly to language skills. However I had a much greater change in my level of host communication competence during my stay in Italy than in Spain. This is probably attributable in part to the difference in ethnic group strength. Since I did not have a large group of people from the United States to interact with in Italy I was more reliant on the host culture. In Spain it was easier to interact with other students from the United States so I did not have to work as hard at developing my host communication competence.

11. The greater the ethnic group strength, the lesser the host interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts less host interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This matched my experience for interpersonal but not mass communication.

Being a member of the U.S. student group in Spain made it more difficult to interact with the host culture. This was because I already had a ready made group of interpersonal contacts in the form of co-ethnic classmates. Theorem proved important here because my total interpersonal communication time was eaten into by my ethnic communication contacts, I had less time available to develop friendships with members of the host culture. These factors did not seem as important in making the choice between host and ethnic mass communication.

12. The greater the ethnic group strength, the greater the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts greater ethnic interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This matched my experience with personal communication in Spain but I used more host mass communication while in Spain than in Italy. In Spain there was a large population of students from the U.S. so there was more opportunity to interact. It also seemed that students from the U.S. gathered somewhat separately from Spanish students which made host interpersonal communication more difficult since I was already a member of the U.S. student ‘group’. With mass communication ethnic group strength seemed less important because the internet made a broad range of mass communication options equally available. I was able to freely choose based on my communication competence the type of mass communication I wanted.

13. The greater the preparedness for change, the greater the host communication competence.

Theorem predicts greater host communication competence in Spain than in Italy. This matched my experience. I had greater communication competence on arriving in Spain than I did in Italy. I spoke the language and had some idea of how the culture worked. I had also been able to plan ahead and kind of knew the city I would be arriving in. However the over all change in communication competence was greater in Italy, where I was completely unprepared. This may mean that preparedness for change is only important in the initial phase of the sojourn and not later.

14. The greater the preparedness for change, the greater the host interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts greater host interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This matched my experience in host mass communication but not in host interpersonal communication. The mass communication may have followed the theorem because it was more choice based; the internet was my primary source of mass communication. The interpersonal communication probably did not follow the theorem because the preparedness for change was far outweighed by other factors like the comparative availability and necessity of host interpersonal communication.

15. The greater the preparedness for change, the lesser the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts less ethnic interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This matched my experience for mass communication but not for interpersonal communication for the same reasons as theorem 15.

16.  The greater the ethnic proximity, the greater the host communication competence.

Theorem predicts approximately equal host communication competence. This prediction matched my experience in terms of social codes and context outside of language knowledge. It seems that ethnic proximity was much less important in this study than other factors. It seems likely that this study is ill suited to gain insight into theorems dealing with ethnic proximity because there is not enough ethnic contrast between Italy, Spain and my own ethnic background to gain meaningful insight.

17. The greater the ethnic proximity, the greater the host interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts approximately equal host interpersonal and mass communication. This did not match my experience.

18. The greater the ethnic proximity the lesser the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts approximately equal ethnic interpersonal and mass communication. This did not match my experience.

19. The greater the adaptive personality, the greater the host communication competence.

Theorem predicts greater host communication competence in Spain than in Italy, provided my adaptive personality increased during my stay in Italy. Kim suggests that adaptive personality my also be relatively constant in which case I would have similar communication competence in Italy and Spain. This did match my experience in terms of having greater adaptive personality when I arrived in Spain than when I arrived in Italy; however, the increased adaptive personality at the start of my sojourn to Spain did not correspond to an over all greater increase in host communication competence throughout my stay in Spain.

20. The greater the adaptive personality, the greater the host interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts greater or equal host interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This did not match my experience in terms of host interpersonal communication; I had more personal communication in Italy. It was true for host mass communication. I think that adaptive personality may be best demonstrated by how a person responds to the requirement of adaptation. In Italy I needed to adapt more and my host interpersonal communication was greater. In Spain I had less need to adapt and had less host interpersonal communication. This does not necessarily mean I was less willing or able to adapt in Spain only that the ability was not as greatly stressed.

21. The greater the adaptive personality, the lesser the ethnic interpersonal and mass communication.

Theorem predicts less or equal ethnic interpersonal and mass communication in Spain than in Italy. This did not match my experience. I had more ethnic interpersonal communication in Spain than in Italy for the same reasons outlined in theorem 20.


In general the theoretical predictions corresponded with the reality of the experience slightly more frequently than they diverged from it. Specifically seven of the theorems were directly supported, eight were supported in terms of mass communication but not interpersonal communication and in six the results contradicted the theorems predictions. Strictly speaking the numbers are not vital to this study because it is not quantitative. However; this indicates that Kim’s theory was more successful than not and the points of correspondence can be taken as supportive of Kim’s theory.

The common theme underlying the theorems where predictions did not match experience were the overwhelming importance of necessity in driving stress, adaptation and growth, the relative importance or impact of some constructs on others and the disconnect between personal and mass communication.

Kim correctly identifies stress as the force behind the need to adapt; but just as there are different levels of human needs there are different levels of stress which people act on accordingly. For example theorems 1 and 2 link communication competence to the amount of host and ethnic communication, similarly theorems 14 and 15 link preparedness for change to ethnic and host communication; my experience was the opposite of the prediction in terms of personal communication for all of these. The common difference driving who I communicated with during the two sojourns was the level of importance I attached to being successful in getting what I needed. In Italy I was attempting to fill basic needs like food, shelter and security and consequently had more host interpersonal communication. In Spain I arranged for my basic needs in advance and was attempting to fill the more abstract goal of bettering my understanding of the Spanish culture and language. Despite my intentions, communication competence and preparation I had significantly less host personal communication in Spain.

These results did not match with the theorems but they are not necessarily contrary to Kim’s theory. The underlying principles of stress-adaptation-growth seem consistent with experience. Rather the results suggest a problem with the testing method and in the difficulty of testing a theorem in isolation from all the other factors that affect it. Instead of only changing one construct factor I changed multiple factors, this rendered the theorems less accurate. Perhaps the theorems should read ‘all other things being equal’ changing communication competence will change host personal and mass communication. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the theorems were supported in the areas of host and ethnic mass communication. The factors surrounding my use of mass communication were much more consistent across both sojourns and my use of ethnic and host mass communication changed as predicted by the theory. Unfortunately; it would be difficult if not impossible to study the theory reality correspondence by only changing one factor and holding all the others constant because no to adaptation experiences are exactly the same. This study supports the basic theory and the form of the theorems, but there needs to be a better system of ranking the relative importance of factors.

Another element of divergence of my experience from the theory’s prediction is the difference between interpersonal and mass communication. Eight of the theorems which contained both had different experience based outcomes for interpersonal as opposed to mass. It seems they should not be linked in theorems because they are clearly not always impacted by the same things. Technology changes throw open choices in mass communication content which are not as greatly impacted by external factors as are personal communication. This is obviously not universally true because different places have different types of technology available. However in both my sojourns I found myself able to surf the internet and access the same sources of information with equal facility.

The key practical implication of this study for students and educators is that the stress which drives the development of communication competence and intercultural identity should be emphasized to students thinking of investing in study abroad. Development in intercultural identity and communication competence are the primary goals of study abroad. Kim’s theory illustrates the importance of stress in the development of these constructs. Study abroad is more than just an exercise in developing better language skills and viewing other cultures; it is an opportunity to participate in a different society and by doing so changing oneself. When programs are chosen with an emphasis on security and minimal risk they are inconsistent with their principal goals. I do not wish to suggest that stress is the only factor to consider or that risks to safety and mental stability are unimportant. But it is important to note that international corporations training and placing employees in other cultures will want people who can move beyond tactics for mitigating culture shock and handle the complex identity negotiation required to a new culture.

This project had a number of limitations. It was tied to the personal biases of the researcher and the sample size made it difficult to generalize beyond the constraints of this specific situation. However, these are both problems common to ethnographic research. Other limitations specific to this study were that in both sojourns only short term adaptations of three months each were examined, a more comprehensive examination of the theory should include short and long term adaptation. Another problem encountered with this method was the number of constructs where factors changed between the two studies. This made it difficult to attribute specific changes in concrete things like the amount of host communication to changes in one construct area like host communication competence.

Despite its limitation this study was useful in suggesting methods of further research. A case study of multiple sojourners using the same format for testing the theorems where background information for the constructs are used to compare the theorem’s predictions to the sojourners experience would add some statistical support for the theory. A more targeted approach to testing the relative impact of different constructs could be achieved through careful selection of groups with specific similarities and differences. This might reveal common themes in which aspects have greater and lesser importance in cross-cultural adaptation and could improve the predictive power of the theory. It could also be used to more concretely test the disconnected nature of interpersonal and mass communication within the theorems.


Kim’s integrative theory of cross-cultural adaptation was supported by this study. While there was not a perfect synchrony between the theoretical and empirical, the points of difference were attributable to limitations in the study. They still followed the underlying principle of stress-adaptation-growth and while this study does suggest that further testing may reveal improvements in the theory and the fundamental assumptions and structure be validated.


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