1.6.4 - Intensity Factors


Intensity Factors


As you can see, we rarely use just one style but a combination of them. Therefore, not only do you want to be careful about labeling someone’s style, but also, far more importantly, you want to understand that your reactions can be because of style and not content.

and then...

There are just a few more items you may want to find out about before you go overseas, because attention to them will pay off in improved communication if you:

  1. recognize how they differ from your own "natural" style;

  2. adapt your behavior to accommodate the difference; and/or call attention to the difference to explain confusion in communication.

Honorifics: What titles are used to address people? When are first names appropriate (if ever)? What difference does status make in using titles? In places like Germany and Japan, there are strong rules about how to address people. In places like the Netherlands and Australia, the rules will be more relaxed.

Vocabulary: What jargon is shared by the other person (if any)? When are you using slang or culture-specific metaphors (such as football parallels or references to television shows)? What words and ideas are specific to your particular peer group (e.g.: Gnarly, Man, Dude, Phat, That’s cool. etc.)? Often everyday slang is not taught in language classes, so it is initially hard to understand, but very useful to learn as quickly as you can. This includes a usage of English which is different from US-American. For example, saying you are "stuffed" after a meal to signify you are full will be understood in Australia as indicating you have just recently had sex! And having someone in Britain suggest that they would like to come by sometime and "knock you up" only means they would like to drop by and visit!

Greeting Rituals: How long is an appropriate greeting? Are compliments fitting? Are different status people greeted differently? What physical behavior (e.g., handshaking—how often, other touching, if any) is expected? In Japan, bowing is a greeting ritual and it is good to try bowing, even if it is almost impossible for an outsider to learn all the nuances of this practice. In France, cheek-kissing is widely practiced, and each region has slightly different etiquette regarding number and styles of such greetings. In India, namaste requires holding the palms of your hands together (prayer position), nod or bow slightly, and say "amaste." Learning and using the proper form of greeting goes a long way to make a positive first impression on host nationals.

Time Language: When is "late"? Are there cultural differences in what might be an appropriate reason to be late? If, in Latin America, you are kept waiting beyond your "late" time, what will your reaction be? When can a party or dinner scheduled for 8:00 pm reasonably (by local standards) be expected to begin?

Dress Language: An almost universal dress code has evolved among teenagers but, interestingly, there are still differences in what is considered appropriate and what is not. US-American males wandering around Kobe, Japan, in shorts and t-shirts with a can of beer in the middle of the afternoon attracted very negative comments (which they could not understand). US-American woman often get unwelcome attention because of their abbreviated and casual dress, when a more conservative attire may ward this off. Most returning students, especially women, report that their usual informal dress lacked the style that was common in Europe. There will be conventional clothing rules and there will be people who deviate from them in every culture, but it is best to attend to what seems most accepted and age-appropriate, if for no other reason than to blend into the environment. 



   What Happened and Why


   Take Out


Learning from Critical Incidents!!






Differences in appearance, personal space, and communication styles are just a few of the many things that may make your experience abroad more intense. Now that you are aware of some of the verbal and body language issues that are likely to be part of your stay, it might be helpful to look at a larger picture and consider what R. Michael Paige calls "Intensity Factors." This is a list of contrasting cultural circumstances that have been proven to have strong psychological impacts upon individuals participating in cross-cultural educational experiences. He called them "intensity factors" because they can heighten the psychological intensity of stress in the adjustment process. You should give some consideration to these factors because each one can contribute to the stress of going and being abroad.

Intensity Factors

Click on each factor for a description* 

Cultural Differences- Prior Intercultural Experience-
Ethnocentrism- Expectations-
Language- Visibility and Invisibility-
Cultural Immersion- Status-
Cultural Isolation- Power and Control-

* Adapted from Paige, R. Michael. “On the Nature of Intercultural Experience and Intercultural Education, in Education for the Intercultural Experience (Michael Paige, Ed). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press. Inc., 1993.



It is important to know in advance that the degree of cultural difference between the home culture and the host culture is likely to be a source of discomfort to the degree that the value systems, level of economic development, and behavioral standards of the host country are significantly divergent from home. The greater the cultural, political, economic, social, and religious contrasts between the home and host countries, the greater the likelihood of culture shock.

Additionally, the degree of cultural immersion (or cultural isolation) the student experiences while overseas plays a major role in their positive or negative evaluation of their host culture. Contrasts between an individual’s status in the host country and status at home can have a large influence on how he or she views the host culture. Related to this factor is the degree to which students are "visible" or "invisible" in the host country and how they evaluate either state. Being “special” abroad can be pleasant or perceived as an intrusion.

Those students with prior international experience are likely to be better able to cope with the transition experience. Although this is generally true, it is possible to have no culture shock during a first stay abroad but suffer severely from it in a subsequent sojourn. There is no guarantee of inoculation against culture shock because you have been abroad before, but at least you have some idea of what it is about.


Intensity Factors Exercise


The following Intensity Factors exercise will give you a chance to think about the degree to which your chosen country or culture may contribute to your adjustment stress and what role your background might play in adjustment.


Rate each of the following ten intensity factors by estimating the degree to which that factor might play a role in your overseas adjustment. Check the number you best think fits the culture you are going to or your own personal circumstances. If you are unsure of what the category means, go back to review the Intensity Factors description. When you are finished, click on "Compute my Score." If you want to repeat the exercise, click on "Start over."




 Least intense    

Most intense

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Cultural differences
2. Ethnocentrism
3. Language
4. Cultural immersion
5. Cultural isolation
6. Prior intercultural experience
7. Expectations
8. Visibility and invisibility
9. Status
10. Power and control

Your Score is:   

Want to know how to interpret your score? Click here.

Note: The Intensity Factors Index is a tool for self-assessment in evaluating the psychological intensity of intercultural environments one might encounter while overseas. It can also be used in designing intercultural training programs. This version was adapted by Bruce La Brack from Paige, R. M. (1993), "On the nature of intercultural experiences and intercultural education", in R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 1-19). Yarmouth, Maine:Intercultural Press. R. Michael Paige, 2001.



The materials in this section should have given you a lot to think about. Although some of the cultural conditions and patterns discussed here will make your experience abroad more intense, there are others which should make you curious and increase your desire make this overseas sojourn a deeply rewarding experience. However, cultural contrasts, which at first seem quaint and interesting, may, over time, lead to a more intense and persistent discomfort when you live abroad. But there is hope and help available. 

The next section provides advice on how to deal with Culture Shock, a phenomenon that you have probably heard about. The term has been used (and misused) to explain just about any reaction to being in a new culture, but labeling everything "shocking" is silly and very misleading. The important question is: "How can someone on study abroad deal with the inevitable rough spots while at the same time continuing their culture learning?" 


Selected Bibliography

Axtell, Roger E., Ed. (1997) Do's and Taboos Around The World. John Wiley & Sons.

Axtell Roger E(1997) Gestures : The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World. John Wiley & Sons.

Morrison, Terri et al. (1995) Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries. Adams Media Corporation.