On Thursday, June 30, 2022, the workshop "Culture Shock: Diagnosis and Remedy" was held for Ukrainian refugees who had to flee their homeland to Germany due to the war. The workshop was held at Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences as part of the research project "Promoting intercultural and refugee-specific competence for refugees and host societies during the Russia-Ukraine crisis".
The goal of the workshop is to equip participants with the knowledge to recognize symptoms of culture shock and reduce the negative consequences of culture shock. It also aims to build skills that will help them adapt more quickly and smoothly to their new sociocultural environment and master intercultural contact situations.
The workshops were attended by 10 Ukrainian war refugees who fled to Germany in March 2022 because of the war in Ukraine.
While the world is still reeling from a pandemic, Europe is facing a new dramatic emergency, a war that has already caused numerous civilian casualties and mass displacement. Once again, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian war refugees have left their country of origin, Ukraine, and many thousands more will follow. The mass flight to Germany raises many problems in the adjustment of refugees to the new socio-cultural, natural and economic conditions. The adaptation of refugees from one cultural environment to another that is largely foreign to them is painful, time consuming, and for some becomes a permanent condition. The inevitable result of this migration is a variety of interactions between Ukrainian refugees and the host population. In one way or another, participants have difficulty interacting due to cultural differences. A foreign sociocultural environment contributes to the fact that instead of the positive effects of immersion in a foreign culture, most war-traumatized individuals experience all the hardships of culture shock resulting from differences in behavioral norms, beliefs, customs, and values of the locals. The natural emotional highs and lows alternate, resulting in deteriorating mental health.
A workshop with an intercultural training element will help Ukrainian refugees mitigate the emotional and physical discomfort of entering a different, new cultural environment, understand how stereotypes and prejudices affect their interactions with members of other cultures, minimize conflicts due to intercultural misunderstandings, adapt to living in a new cultural environment, and teach them how to communicate effectively with representatives of other cultures. The focus of the training was on the development of intercultural competence - the training of key skills, knowledge and social attitudes necessary for successful communication with representatives of other cultures.
- To make participants aware of intercultural differences in interpersonal relationships by playing situations in which something happens differently in Ukrainian and German cultures;
- To familiarize the participants with the process of "culture shock", the main symptoms of culture shock and the ways to reduce its negative effects;
- To enable the transfer of the acquired knowledge to new life situations. This was achieved by familiarizing the participants with the characteristic ethnic-cultural features of German culture.
The theoretical part of the program dealt with awareness and understanding of the specific cultural universals manifested in traditions, rituals and customs. Awareness of one's ethnocentrism, the influence of ethnic attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices that hinder the formation of ethnic-cultural competence.
The practical part of the program consisted in developing ethnocultural sensitivity (sensitivity to cultural peculiarities), developing cognitive and emotional empathy, recognizing similarities between cultures, recognizing the values of one's own culture, increasing intercultural competence in situations of intercultural communication, promoting tolerance and objective self-assessment, practicing and consolidating the skills necessary for successful intercultural interaction.
The methodological basis of the training included traditional group work methods such as role-playing in different cultural environments, reflection on experience, "cultural assimilator", group discussions on prejudices, values. The aim of these methods is to challenge prejudices, stereotypes and behavioral conventions in order to teach participants to understand, sense and analyze both their own behavior and that of other cultures.
Participants role-play situations that recreate frequently recurring incidents in intercultural communication. The method is based on a playful experience in "as-if" situations in which the hidden rules and standards underlying the norms and values of a foreign culture are perceived. This method leads to a playful experience, thanks to which the interests of the interacting parties and their behaviors are better understood and the ability to perceive the norms and values of a foreign culture is developed.
The reflexivity of the experience implies that the participants reflect on their own cultural and ethnic belonging, as well as on behavioral stereotypes.
"Cultural assimilation" is a cross-cultural technique for conveying information about the differences between cultures that facilitates interpersonal contact in a foreign cultural environment. The goal of the method is to teach participants to view different situations from the perspective of members of a foreign group and to understand their worldview. The cultural integrator helps participants: form isomorphic attributions and use them to better understand representatives of other cultures; mitigate the use of negative stereotypes; increase satisfaction in communicating with representatives of a foreign culture; and better adapt to everyday stresses in a new cultural environment.
As part of the training objectives, two presentations were given to workshop participants. The presentation on "Ethnocultural features in Germany" familiarized the participants with the main general cultural aspects of life in modern Germany, traditions, cultural behavior patterns, existing auto- and heterotypes. The second presentation on "Culture Shock, Influencing Factors and Consequences" introduced the participants to the phenomenon of "culture shock" as an element of the adaptation process in another country, its main symptoms, causes of its occurrence, communication barriers, stages of life and concrete ways of overcoming it.
The most important area in which culture shock provides opportunities for personal development is in improving situational adaptivity. The experience of moving into a new cultural environment enables the person to be more effective and behave better in similar situations in the future.
Following the workshop, an open discussion session was held. Participants gave the following feedback on training:
Antonina Platonova (Kiev, Ukraine): This is an interesting and up-to-date training on cultural adaptation of migrants. None of the Ukrainians was prepared to become a migrant, so all the processes that happen to us are foreign. For me personally, the training was an opportunity to take time and sort myself out by formulating a problem that cannot be analyzed alone. The information about barriers in intercultural communication, living with "culture shock" and how to manage it was presented in an interesting and simple format. I learned a lot about stereotypical behavior and intercultural competence. I would be very happy if such meetings would continue; we really need this support now.
Myroslava Kurylkoo (Kiev, Ukraine). The training has left a great and positive impact on me. I learned a lot about how to enter a new culture and especially about what stage of "culture shock" I am in. I knew nothing about this process before the training. I learned how to experience it less painfully and what methods I can use to overcome it (because it was very difficult to understand it myself, but your training helped me). In general, it was very useful and well organized. Thank you!
Fisak Olha (Kharkov, Ukraine): The workshop is very important for refugees from Ukraine, and not only for them. You need such events in order not to get lost in the jungle of psyche and not to be alone with your problems! This is communication with interesting people, discussion about issues that concern you. In an intellectual and friendly atmosphere, the time flew by! Many thanks to the organizers and participants!
Alina Lukina (Odessa, Ukraine): The training is very relevant and useful for me, definitely! I found that I am in a state of culture shock, but in a more pleasant state for my psyche! Great presentation of the material, everything is understandable! The training was in a comfortable, friendly environment which helped me relax and talk openly about my experience! When I returned to my loved ones, I immediately shared the new knowledge with my family. The usefulness of this training is tremendous! Thank you very much!
Kradozhon Anna (Kiev, Ukraine): It was great, I had no idea there was a theory for a process like culture shock. It made you realize that you are not alone when it comes to dealing with new challenges - everyone goes through it. It was very valuable to have such unusual information available to everyone. Many thanks to the organizers and everyone involved in this event
Romets Nataliia (Ukraine): The workshop was held in a friendly atmosphere. The topic of intercultural relations was approached with the right depth of understanding. It has greatly improved my understanding of the problems of adaptation in Germany and will benefit me. Information about life in Germany and the German national culture became very important for me. Thank you very much for organizing this seminar!
Melnichenko Olena (Kiev, Ukraine): Thank you for this interesting and dynamic training. I really enjoyed the good atmosphere in the group, the interactive format and the opportunity for group discussion. I now feel less anxious when I am in intercultural situations because I can now see and reflect more clearly on my character and the resulting positioning. Even more: I have also gained many starting points for successful communication in contact with other cultural groups.