“May I help you?”

Reverse culture shock: A comparison of the expression of hospitality in Sweden and Taiwan

By Huiyu Chuang

As mobility makes up one of the core values of the Euroculture program, every Euroculturer more or less has cultivated a certain level of “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ) in order to handle all sorts of situations related to intercultural adaptation. Before moving to a new destination, we consciously or unconsciously take different approaches (that are influenced by our personal motivations, and personality) to better prepare ourselves for new cultural encounters. However, when we have to temporarily break away from the culture we have become so comfortable with — or even to go home, back where we come from — we are at the frontline in experiencing possible reverse culture shock.

Reverse culture shock is the process of readjusting, re-acculturating, and re-assimilating into one’s own culture back home after having lived in a different cultural environment for a long period of time. I wonder how my fellow European classmates (who share a common sense of European identity yet are still differentiated due to their unique national cultures) go through the emotions and experiences of reverse culture shock as I do. Crossing over more than five thousand miles from one culture to another, I found that the moment I landed on my homeland (Taiwan), within a week, I felt a weird feeling that strikes me as strong as a typical subtropical typhoon rain. The best way to get out of the storm without getting soaking wet is not to compare cultural aspects of another country with what cultural aspects in our country lack. Aspects that we see as positive in one culture could not be “transplanted” from one place to another without taking fundamental differences and local conditions into consideration. Thus, in this article, I aim to share my experience by showing you the different ways to express hospitality in Taipei (Taiwan) and Uppsala (Sweden) and how this reflection once again reminds me of my responsibility of studying cross cultures.

May I Help you_Article_ByHuiyu Chuang

The most beautiful scenery is…

“The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is its people.” This is a famous slogan that the Taiwanese tourism sector proudly uses to highlight how hospitable Taiwanese people are. Its credibility is endorsed by international media and many foreign travelers’ testimonies. I have never doubted it, but honestly, I do so based on national pride. For local Taiwanese people, Taiwanese hospitality has never been consciously appreciated because we are so used to it, that to some extent, we take it for granted. This is especially true in the service sector. In the context of Taiwan, it is important to keep in mind that the majority of customers wish to be served hospitably as VIPs, so bosses expect their employees know this “common rule” as well as to provide their hospitable service to the maximum level. The career training often encourages employee to accept this rule by heart and show their hospitality sincerely and naturally as a habit. For those who are naturally critical of this, they might find similar awkwardness as I did in the following stories.

It was about seven o’clock in the evening. I accompanied my parents to a mobile telecom company service center. I did not realize this visit would become a one-on-three private lesson, which causes the staff to work overtime in order to maintain their highly valued “customer satisfaction”. The staff not only completed the basic demonstration and system setting for the new phones, she even accepted my dad’s request to set up everything on the new phones exactly the same as the old phones. Two hours later when everything finished, she came out from her counter and said goodbye to us. I asked my parents: how much do we pay her for her help? Of course, I knew the answer by heart. The service charge covers only the phones — so why is she willing to provide her service to such a degree, and how can customers like my parents be that happy while being served “extra” as the staff did, knowing it is not fairly remunerated? I carried these complicated feelings on my next purchase at a Taiwanese pharmacy chain store. 

It was the final day before my coupon expired. When it was my turn to pay, the staff smiled and said, “I am sorry, the gift mentioned on the coupon is out of stock. However, you can wait until our next program starts which is next week, and use the coupon then.” Sounds pretty reasonable, so I brought those products back to the shelf, but she stopped me and explained which of the products I chose were going to have its prices raised next week (so I should buy them today) and which ones will retain its current price. I was embarrassed because she thought I cared about the price difference, when actually what I really cared about was the coupon. It seems that she knew the customer’s concern, so she actively responded by that suggestion even though I did not mean it and ask for it. But, I still appreciate her unexpected hospitable customer service for a poor student. During the following days, similar patterns keep happening in different cases, in noodle restaurants, in the household registration center, and so on.

In Taiwan, 60% of the population contributes their labor in the service sector, which accounts for 63-65% (2010-2017) of the GDP. The notion of supplying a person’s service as his act of labor implies that whoever can provide better service, decides who can win over customers’ hearts and their money. Drawing on my own observations so far as well as information from local Taiwanese magazines, “good service” is defined by maximum customer satisfaction. In many cases, Taiwanese people care more about affection than rationality. Staff is always expected to figure out what customers’ request is and try to satisfy it. If they can’t satisfy the level of “rationality”, they have to take care of the customer’s affection, usually by giving them alternatives, further suggestions, compensations such as discounts or gifts, or any possible way to make them feel better for the inability to attain the customer’s request. Gradually, some customers are spoiled by the so called “customer first” or “customer is always right” philosophy. Then a term, “奧客” (ào kè direct translation — difficult customer or problematic customer) is created, referring to a customer who places unattainable requests. They follow the original price set, but try to ask for more benefits, and make the supply-and-demand relationship out of balance. To handle this type of difficult customer, the Taiwanese service sector is trained to be super caring to the extent that it becomes my reverse culture shock.

Ask, and it shall be given you

Reverse culture shock is usually derived from a comparison a person makes with a different cultural environment in which he/she has grown accustomed to. In my case, the expression of hospitality I have received in Sweden is different. There is a balance between showing an amount of hospitality (which is considered as “appropriate”) and how much the recipients express his/her need of it. If a person does not express his/her need for help, then another person would usually not interrupt his/her silence (a laissez faire approach, so to speak).  I learned this lesson by going through several interesting stories. Many times, I have difficulties making my mind to buy either item A or B. While I was struggling, I noticed I have a lot of personal space in the stores in Sweden. Even so, once I asked for some opinions from the staff, they were sincere in offering their knowledge, but just the information they think they know. This perfectly corresponds to a saying, “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

Besides the retailor sector, I also found similar proof in other aspects of my daily life. While staying in “corridor style” dorm, I enjoyed the balance between having my own space in my private room and social life in the common areas. My “corridor life” was composed of four people in a house. One is Swedish, one has lived in Sweden for more than ten years, the third one is an Italian learning Swedish language and culture, and me. Coming from a culture that cherishes collectivity, I got used to it quickly. However, when hard times came and I needed help, I found that my roommates have been holed up inside their respective rooms for many days, or often rushes into their own rooms right after coming back home. I thought I had better forget my need, but later I realized it does not necessarily mean they are shy or cold like the stereotypes about Swedish people. Once I took my first step to ask, I got tons of helpful responses. Sometimes, if concrete help is not available at that moment, it is very possible that it comes a while later. Several times, I found a sticky note written with the answers to my question on my room door next day. Or similar to another surprise I received from the language center, they informed me of a chance suddenly emerged after my request was declined due to high demand for their language consultancy.

After comparing the different expressions of hospitality in Taiwan and Sweden, I notice the position of “the giver” is stronger in the former case, where one is more active in exerting his/her hospitality as a natural gesture of friendliness, or a trained reflective habit to cater to his target. As for the later case, it takes a step back perspective to embody the concept of egalitarianism in interpersonal relationship without leaving trace of intrusion and pre-assumption.

Do similarities or differences attract each other? 

The theories of similarity attraction and complementary principle are not that unfamiliar to most people. Though in interpersonal relationship perceived similarity is more proven as a factor to result in human liking by scientific researches, complementary principle still explains those exceptions. For example those people who are into intercultural exchange. When we are exposed to various cross cultural input during our study, one of the relevant topics constantly being discussed is the attitude to immigration and the tolerance to cross culture underlined by it. Generally, older people are more concerned about immigration than younger people. One of the reasons is the difference of birth cohorts that decides what life experiences they could have.

Young generation has many chances to receive diversity training (e.g. Erasmus program, international voluntary projects, overseas working experience). These opportunities empower us to shape our future society as open and friendly to cultural differences, which can better collaborate with cross cultural organizations beyond the governmental level. However, this vision would happen only when we are fully aware of the responsibility we are taking to reflect on our attitudes across cultural differences. It is important for people who learn culture to be able to sensitively observe and possess sympathy to differences by using our creativity, passion, and bravery to question why things are the way they are.

Featured picture: Chris-Håvard Berge/Flickr

References

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Chaban, Natalia, Allan Williams, Martin Holland, Valerie Boyce, and Frendehl Warner. “Crossing Cultures: Analysing the Experiences of NZ Returnees from the EU (UK vs. Non-UK).” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35, no. 6 (November 2011): 776–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.03.004 

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Klohnen, Eva C., and Luo, Shanhong. “Interpersonal Attraction and Personality: What Is Attractive–Self Similarity, Ideal Similarity, Complementarity or Attachment Security?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, no. 4 (October 2003): 709–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.85.4.709

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Meredith, Willaim H., Abbott, Douglas A., Tsai, Rita, and Zheng, Fu Ming. “Healthy Family Functioning in Chinese Cultures: An Exploratory Study Using the Circumplex Model.” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 24, no. 1 (1994): 147–57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23029805 

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At Home on the Road

By Ana Alhoud

“On the road again…I just can’t wait to get on the road again…” -Willie Nelson

Few experiences expose you to the constant movement that Euroculture does. Amongst the careful searches for accommodation, endless negotiations with landlords, costly shipping of suitcases, frequent (un)packing, farewell get-togethers, moving in rituals and eventual redo of the entire process, students abroad are educated about being adaptable in changing situations more than most of the population…but what are we missing in the midst of so much movement?

One of the major lures of Euroculture is its mobility requirement, in which each student is required to study in at least two universities as well as a research/ internship placement. This unique element encourages Euroculture students to not only learn in different environments, but to immerse themselves in many manifestations of lifestyles and cultures. Whether we realize it or not, the mindset we adopt throughout this process is key to succeeding academically as well as growing personally.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [1], the physiological needs for food, water, safety and warmth must be achieved before embarking on the next steps toward self-realization, a process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential. Vedic knowledge concerning the chakras [2] also refer to this critical requirement of basic physical stability, associated with the root chakra [3], as the foundation for the increasingly social aspects of fulfillment that come afterward. For the most part, students abroad technically meet this first level of fulfillment (though Ramen noodles don’t always do the trick), but how do we counter the negative effects of instability [4] when moving so frequently? Continue reading “At Home on the Road”

My Third Semester: Research Track at Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic (2017-2019)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Maeva Chargros is a French Euroculture student who spent her first and second semesters in Olomouc, Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland, respectively. Having previously studied within programs that take on a multidisciplinary approach, Maeva decided to apply for Euroculture as it offered her the opportunity to dive back into literature, history, and languages (as she did in her BA) without losing the interdisciplinary approach. She has a background in Nordic Studies, and professional experience in digital communications as well as public relations (PR). For her third semester, she went back to Olomouc to do the research track.
Thanks Maeva for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do research?

Honestly, I just wanted to keep digging into my thesis topic. I was foolish enough to pick a topic I knew barely nothing about, in a field I was not exactly familiar with, so I realised I had to work on my background knowledge as much as I could, and the research track was the best option for this. Also, since I’ve already worked, I did not feel like I would be learning anything tremendously stimulating – quite the opposite of a research track where I’d be learning a lot every day on various topics. Perhaps the comfort of going back to Olomouc – a city I really enjoy to live in – was also part of my choice, but shhh, it’s not supposed to be that important, right…?

2. Tell us what you were doing at Olomouc! Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic (2017-2019)”

My Third Semester: Internship at Eurozine

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Béline Hermet (2017-2019, FR) has a background in International Development with a minor in Italian Studies. After a couple of years in Canada, she wanted to go back to Europe. For her, Euroculture was an obvious choice. Apart from her interest in the issues the programme attempts to tackle, she finds additional appeal in the mobility opportunities that the programme offers, which allow her to study in different universities and countries in a multicultural environment with international students.
Béline started her Euroculture life in Uppsala and Göttingen. She spent her third semester doing an Editorial Assistant internship at Eurozine, a network of European cultural journals and an online magazine, headquartered at Vienna, Austria.
Thanks Béline for taking the time to share your experience!

1. So, why an internship?

I know I don’t want to do a PhD, so I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship to have professional experience and opportunities. I have not yet had the opportunity to do an internship that is of longer duration, and I wanted to get a better idea of what I want to do after Euroculture.

2. Can you tell us what you were doing in your internship? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at Eurozine”

My Third Semester: Internship at European Movement International

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Marc Kendil (2017-2019, DK) started his Euroculture life in Groningen and Strasbourg. He completed his third semester by doing an internship at European Movement International (EMI), the largest pan-European network of pro-European organisations, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, as an EU Affairs Trainee. With his multinational identity and upbringing, he considers himself a child of the EU project. Marc has a background in American Studies with a minor in International Relations, which is rooted in his long-standing interest in North American society, culture and politics.  Wishing to bridge the gap between his upbringing and former studies, he took up MA Euroculture and hopes of pursuing a diplomatic career in the future.
Thanks Marc, for taking the time to share your experience!

1. So, why an internship?

I wanted to do an internship during my third semester for several reasons. A research track did not interest me as I do not want to carry on into the field of academia nor do a PhD. More importantly, I wished to acquire some concrete experiences from a professional perspective during my Master’s in order to increase my chances at finding employment/internships right after graduation. Doing an internship during a MA is also incredibly beneficial to supplement the theoretical.

2. Can you tell us what you were doing at EMI? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at European Movement International”

My Third Semester: Research Track at University of Groningen, the Netherlands (2017-2019)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Fangjia Chen is from China and has a background in Business English. She has always wanted to study European cultures and live in Europe. After a recommendation from her supervisor, she decided to apply for Euroculture. Fangjia spent her first and second semesters at Strasbourg and Göttingen before following the research track at the Department of International Relations and International Development, University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Thanks Fangjia for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do research for your third Euroculture semester?

I decided to do a research semester mainly because of the content of the research track. In Groningen, the research semester is composed of a research internship and research seminars. You can choose a field that you want to work with. I’m really into China-EU relations, and the university found a really great internship job for me at the International Relations (IR) department.

2. What were you doing in your research semester? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at University of Groningen, the Netherlands (2017-2019)”

A Perspective on the Culture of Hanging Out

By Huiyu Chuang

For many young people around the world, Europe is not too unfamiliar as a travel or study destination. In the context of globalization, regardless in geography, economy, politics, art and popular culture, our lives more or less intertwine with others’.  As Euroculture students, we should have no problem adapting into this melting pot. I thought to myself, what would it be really like to live in Europe and with European students?

For many Asian families, being 25 years old when you start exploring the world is not too late of an age, especially after studying very hard to graduate from university and working in a company for some years, yet still unsure of what kind of life experience one really wants to have. Unlike me, almost all the classmates I met here have lived a cross-cultural life and possess study/volunteer experiences during their university education. Many of them have “dual identities” and regard themselves proudly as European, no less, or even more, than their nationalities. When these two kinds of people meet, culture shock is inevitable.
As a foreign student, I would like to share my observations on the culture of hanging out and making friends during my time in Strasbourg. Continue reading “A Perspective on the Culture of Hanging Out”

My Third Semester: Internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Katharina Geiselmann (2017-2019, DE) or also known by her classmates as Kat, spent her first and second semesters at Uppsala and Krakow. Kat studied English Studies in her Bachelor’s, with a minor in Languages and Cultures. After her Bachelor studies, she looked for a completely interdisciplinary Master’s programme that allows her to live in more countries and become familiar with more languages, which led her to start her Euroculture adventure. Kat has just finished her internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, which she did for her third semester. Thanks, Kat, for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do an internship for your third Euroculture semester?

To be honest, I was quite undecided about which option would be better for me, simply because I did not know if I wanted to pursue a PhD after this programme or work. In the end, I chose to do an internship because I was offered one with the German Foreign Ministry, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. They also only take interns who can prove that it is an obligatory part of their studies, so I might not have had the option of doing the internship at another time. In the end, I think you can have great experiences both with the research track and the professional track, as long as you find a vacancy that makes you curious. I found that it really helped me to talk about my options with friends, because sometimes you only realize why you want to do what only when talking about it.

2. So, what kind of things did you do at the German Permanent Representation? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union”

My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)

Interviews conducted by Ivana Putri

Elisabeth Stursberg (DE, Strasbourg-Groningen), or also known by her classmates as Lizzie,  studied Cultural History and Theory & Economics during her Bachelor’s. After she took interest in the selection of partner universities and cities Euroculture offers, she started her Euroculture life with the intention to learn more about European history, culture, and politics and the EU in particular, and find out if she could see herself working for the EU or another IO afterwards.
Inès Roy (FR/MA, Udine-Strasbourg) has a background in Languages and International Business. Her decision to study Euroculture stems from her desire to travel and study at the same time. She has always been interested in the concept of cultures and how they are perceived from different standpoints.
Both have returned from their research semester at Osaka University, Japan, and are their final semester at Université de Strasbourg. Thanks Inès and Lizzie, for taking the time to share your experiences!

1. How did you come to the decision of doing a research track at Osaka?

Elisabeth Stursberg (ES): The choice between internship and research track was not too easy, since both sounded like a great option. What influenced my choice most though was the possibility to spend a semester in Japan, a country I had not visited before but was so curious about! I actually don’t think I would have done the research track if I hadn’t been accepted for Osaka. Another reason was that I had already done several internships during my Bachelor’s (it’s pretty common in Germany and often even implicitly, or explicitly, required by employers) and will probably do at least one more after finishing this MA. Time flew by so quickly already in the first semester, and I just liked the idea of studying for another semester as long as I had the chance. Japan as the destination was also a major factor, since I was going to take the research seminar on Integration Processes in East Asia and in Europe during the second semester – so it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Inès Roy (IR): As far as I can remember, I always wanted to go to Japan to see the beautiful landscapes, as well as to see how the ultra-modern and the traditional interact. However, traveling to and living in a country for a few months are two very different experiences. So the possibility to go there was actually another reason for me to apply for Euroculture! As I don’t speak Japanese and wouldn’t be able to find an internship there, I believed this research semester was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

2. What was the research semester like? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)”

My Third Semester: Research Track at UNAM, Mexico (2017-2019)

Interviews conducted by Ivana Putri

Ashanti Collavini (IT, Udine-Groningen) has a background in English and Spanish Languages and Literatures. Her undergraduate Erasmus experiences made her realize that she wanted to do MA studies abroad, where she could broaden her scope of studies to include global and contemporary issues; and challenge herself by experiencing different cultures and academic systems in various countries, all the while living and studying in an international environment.
Sabina Mešić (SI, Uppsala-Groningen) also studied English and Spanish Language and Literature during her Bachelor’s. She enrolled to Euroculture because she is interested in the programme’s interdisciplinarity, and she wanted to change the focus of her studies as well as study in various countries.
Both just finished their research semester at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. Thank you Ashanti and Sabina for taking the time to share your experiences! Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at UNAM, Mexico (2017-2019)”