Community Media Discussion - Overcoming Culture Shock

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On Wednesday 12th July, I’m attending an all party event at the House of Commons: Lessons from Leicester: Bridging Communities across the UK. The discussion is organised by British Future, and will address how we can engage people in discussion about their hopes and fears about integration and immigration, identity and race. British Future is working towards securing a confident and welcoming Britain, inclusive and fair to all. I thought it might be useful to share some ideas and initial observations about how community media can play a role in this process.

‘Culture shock’ is a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings of disorientation, unfamiliarity, and confusion that people may experience when they come into contact with a cultural environment that is significantly different from their own. It can be caused by things like differences in social norms, language, diet, customs, and expected behaviours. The term was introduced by the anthropologist Kalervo Oberg in the 1950s.

Culture shock is usually described in four phases, though it’s important to remember these phases aren’t always experienced by everyone or in the same order:

  • Honeymoon Phase: This is characterized by the initial excitement and fascination with the new culture. The individual is often curious and intrigued by the novelty of the new environment.
  • Negotiation Phase: After some time (usually around three months, depending on the individual), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. This can lead to feelings of frustration, loneliness, and fear.
  • Adjustment Phase: This is when an individual begins to grow accustomed to the new culture and sees routines and habits form. This phase is marked by a more balanced perspective.
  • Mastery/Adaptation Phase: The final stage where the individual can participate fully and comfortably in the host culture.

In the context of a model of community cohesion, culture shock can be a significant barrier. Community cohesion refers to the ability of communities to function and grow in harmony despite their cultural and ethnic diversity. The process involves promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures, fostering respect, and reducing disparities and prejudice.

When individuals from different cultural backgrounds are brought together, culture shock can lead to misunderstandings, tension, and even conflict. However, if a community has strong cohesion, it can help individuals navigate through the phases of culture shock more smoothly. This can be achieved through things like intercultural communication, education, and social programs that promote understanding and interaction between different cultural groups.

To improve community cohesion and minimize the negative impacts of culture shock, communities can:

  • Facilitate cultural exchange and learning: This can be done through festivals, workshops, community activities, etc. that highlight different cultures and promote mutual understanding.
  • Promote inclusivity: This involves creating safe spaces for everyone, respecting differences, and promoting equal opportunities.
  • Encourage intercultural interaction: This could be through community programs that encourage interaction and cooperation between people from different cultures.

While culture shock can be a challenge to community cohesion, a well-integrated, inclusive, and understanding community can provide the support needed for individuals to navigate and adjust to new cultural environments.

Community media, such as community radio programmes, can play a significant role in mitigating culture shock and fostering community cohesion:

  • Promotion of Cultural Understanding: Community radio programs can feature shows dedicated to the exploration of different cultures within the community. These programs can include interviews, stories, music, food, customs, etc., from various cultures. This can help all listeners understand, appreciate, and respect the diversity of their community.
  • Platform for Dialogue: Community radio can provide a platform for individuals to discuss and explore their experiences, challenges, and perspectives. This open dialogue can help in the resolution of misunderstandings and conflicts and promote empathy and mutual understanding.
  • Language Learning: For those experiencing culture shock due to language differences, community radio can be a resource for learning the local language or for helping residents understand the languages of newcomers.
  • Community Engagement: Community radio can encourage participation from all cultural groups in the production of programs. This involvement can give people a sense of ownership and inclusion in their community, and facilitate interaction between different cultural groups.
  • Local Information and Resources: Community radio can help newcomers navigate their new environment by providing information about local resources, events, and social services. This information can help reduce the feelings of disorientation associated with culture shock.
  • Representation: By featuring content that is relevant to all cultural groups within the community, community radio can help everyone feel represented and valued. This can foster a greater sense of belonging and community cohesion.
  • Celebration of Diversity: Community radio can celebrate cultural diversity by featuring special programming for cultural holidays, festivals, and events from different cultures. This can increase cultural awareness and appreciation, thereby fostering community cohesion.

Community radio can serve as a powerful tool to mitigate culture shock and foster community cohesion by promoting cultural understanding and dialogue, providing valuable information and resources, and creating a shared space for all members of a community.

Policy-makers and social development planners can take several steps when using community media for cultural orientation and fostering community cohesion, acknowledging the varying degrees of a community’s metropolitan nature:

  • Recognise Diversity: It’s important for policy-makers and planners to recognise the diverse nature of both the newcomer groups and the established residents. This diversity should be reflected in the content of the community media. The experiences of both rural and metropolitan communities should be acknowledged and respected.
  • Active Participation: Encourage participation from all community members in creating content for the community media. This could include storytelling, discussions, interviews, and music. Active participation can help foster a sense of ownership and belonging within the community, which can contribute to community cohesion.
  • Language Consideration: Community media should ideally be multilingual, especially in metropolitan areas, to cater to a diverse audience. Providing content in various languages can help overcome language barriers and make newcomers feel included.
  • Cultural Education: Use community media to educate the community about different cultures. This could include programs about customs, traditions, foods, and history. Cultural education can help reduce misunderstandings and stereotypes, fostering a more cohesive community.
  • Facilitate Dialogue: Encourage open discussion about the challenges and benefits of cultural diversity. This could involve programs that allow listeners to call in or write to share their experiences, questions, and ideas.
  • Inclusive Content: Ensure content is inclusive and representative of all community members. This can help promote a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of alienation among newcomers, while helping established residents better understand their new neighbours.
  • Local Information and Resources: Use community media to provide valuable local information, such as details about social services, local events, and opportunities for community involvement.
  • Collaboration with Community Organisations: Collaborate with local community organisations to create programming that addresses specific community needs and interests. This collaboration can also extend to sponsorships, where local businesses support specific programs or segments.
  • Monitor and Evaluate: Regularly monitor and evaluate the impact of community media initiatives. This feedback can help determine the success of the initiatives and provide valuable information for future planning.

By following these recommendations, policy-makers and social development planners can use community media effectively to help mitigate culture shock, promote cultural orientation, and foster community cohesion. Community media, when effectively implemented, emerges as a crucial tool in fostering community cohesion. It holds the potential to bridge the gap between various cultural and social groups, aiding in the navigation of cultural landscapes and mitigating the impact of culture shock. This is achieved through its capacity to promote cultural understanding, facilitate dialogue, and encourage active participation from all community members. Furthermore, by providing trusted, accountable, and relevant media content that resonates with the community experience, community media not only enhances representation and inclusivity but also strengthens a shared sense of community ownership and belonging. Thus, with a common agreement on the purpose of serving communities, community media can greatly contribute to creating harmonious, understanding, and thriving community environments.