Dive In: A Culture Shock Resource

by | Posted April 17th, 2014


Culture is an iceberg. Most of what we immediately think of is just what’s above the waterline – food, music, holidays. But so much of the cultural norms are hidden below the surface, and it can be overwhelming to try and navigate all the hidden expectations when you’re thrown into foreign waters. To ease the experience, CAITLAH (Center for Applied Inclusive Teaching and Learning in the Arts and Humanities) created Dive In with the help of WRAC faculty member Cheryl Caesar.

Dive In is a forum where students can talk about their experiences with culture shock in the MSU community. This website gives students an outlet to discuss the differences in culture and to express their struggles in acclimating to MSU’s culture.

dive in website screenshot

Over the years, Caesar has asked her first-year writing students to expand their audience beyond their classmates, to write beyond their culture bubble. For First-Year Writing classes at MSU, this is a ubiquitous goal. However, Caesar wanted more for her students. “ I got tired of asking them to imagine they were writing for a particular audience — why not do it for real?”

In 2012, Caesar submitted an idea to the FYW Program for a new pilot curriculum based on culture shock. Part of the curriculum included a written personal narrative about students’ experience with culture shock. The necessity for the Dive In website came later, “I began receiving so much wonderful, thoughtful and creative material that I could not just keep it to our classroom,” Caesar explained. She began dreaming up a website that encompassed campus and beyond, stock full of information on various cultures as well as local and campus resources.

The project quickly gained traction and soon other MSU staff and students jumped on board. “A senior in Teacher Education, Caren Kadri, is interested in taking it on as a research project. Also, two groups of students from Kate Fedewa’s WRA 150 are doing research in order to contribute profiles and FAQ. One group, headed by Alex Heavin, will be presenting this research at UURAF (University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum) in April,” said Caesar.

The heart of the website though, is student stories. One such story comes from Q:
“Living in a different culture is like a double edged sword. Not only people can learn another culture, but they also can feel culture shock as I had. I still have a language problem, but I am better in English now than I was before. And I have learned about American behavior such as eye contact and have become used to it; so I can respond to people while they are talking, even sometimes other people avoid my eye contact while I’m talking. Moreover, I have found many entertainments with friends in the US besides my playing style in Korea, so I can spend and hang out with others more time. Fears can make your situation worse. Do you want to make new friends? Have a little courage.”

Currently, Dive In has been a great tool for students in FYW; however, Caesar would like the site to be more widely known and used by students, campus organizations, and professors. “I would like to see it known to all new students [. . .] And I would like students to take it over as their own forum, with a chat room and whatever else they might envision,” she said. Caesar is hoping to extend the reach of the project by one day getting the website to become part of orientation or become a freshman seminar.

You can get involved by writing about your own experiences, offering comments or suggestions, or sharing resources on culture shock (such as events, articles, and FAQs). Caesar can be contacted at caesarc@msu.edu.