acculturative stress of African Catholic Missionary Nuns (ACMN) serving in the United States. This chapter is divided into five parts. The first part explains the meaning of acculturation and adaptation experiences specific to missionaries. This part emphasizes (1) different perspectives from social and behavioral scientists examining the phenomenon of acculturation (2) different theoretical models describing the stages of acculturation (3) dissimilarities between immigrants and missionary immigrants and what makes the two unique. The second part of this chapter examines the emotional and psychological distress missionaries experience as a result of acculturative stress. The third part focuses on coping strategies and resilience of missionaries. The fourth part introduces the existing literature in the area of acculturative stress of missionaries, emphasizing on limited empirical research in this subject and the necessity for further research in this area of study.
Part One: Background and Overview
Different Social and Behavioral Scientific Perspectives Concerning Acculturation. The cultural identity possessed by people is defined as the extent to which people identify with their home country or country of destination, or the host country (Kimber, 2009). In the past, researchers tended to concentrate on the so-called "culture shock" that is experienced by people exposed to a different culture for the first time, as well as how people adapted to their new cultural environment (Kimber, 2009). More recently, researchers have also examined more complex issues such as identity and multiculturalism, including cross-cultural communications, sociocultural and psychological adaptation, and relationships (Kimber, 2009). The overarching purpose of the research to date has been to identify what factors tend to contribute to a sense of alienation in a foreign land and how people tended to respond to these changes by acculturating to their host country, and these issues are discussed further below.
Different Theoretical Models Describing the Stages of Acculturation. The growing body of knowledge concerning how the acculturation process takes place has caused some researchers to reevaluate existing theories with respect to the concept of acculturation. Originally conceptualized as being a unidimensional process in which people who came into contact with a host culture would assume the characteristics of the new culture over time (Flannery Reise, & Yu, 2001). Acculturation has been originally viewed as a unidimensional model of acculturation that comprises a linear relationship between people culture in their home country and the culture that exists in their host country (Buscemi, 2011). According to Buscemi, "This unidirectional model describes acculturation as the shedding off of an old culture and the taking on of a new culture. It was believed that individuals only had two options; either they acculturated or they remained in their own culture" (2011, p. 40).
Based on more recent research concerning the underlying concepts, though, there is a growing consensus that acculturation is more than merely a unidirectional process (Buscemi, 2011). In this regard, Buscemi advises that, "The focus on understanding immigrant groups was more on understanding cultural pluralism where a more multidimensional model of acculturation was being accepted. This revised model describes this process with adaptation to a host culture as no longer requiring the rejection of the culture of origin" (2011, p. 40). The expanded conceptualization of acculturation emerged following the recognition of the constraints that were involved in a strict application of the unidimensional model because it failed to capture the more robust aspects involved in the acculturation process (Gibson, 2001).
Today, many researchers subscribe to the concept of acculturation as a mixed process that includes both intraethnic and intracultural diversity influences (Buscemi, 2011). According to Buscemi, "Acculturation is being describes as a bidirectional process more and more. The bidirectional process of acculturation involves the simultaneous acquiring, retaining or relinquishing of the characteristics of both the original and the host cultures" (2011, p. 40). The revised model of acculturation regards biculturalism as being the foundation of the process (Buscemi, 2011). This was an important step forward in the research concerning acculturation because it recognizes that different people experience the process in different ways. In this regard, Buscemi points out that, "The bicultural model assumes that acculturating individuals can maintain two different cultural identities simultaneously. The bicultural process involves learning communication and negotiation skills in cultural contexts that involve separate sets of rules" (p. 40). In sharp contrast to the conceptualization of acculturation being a unidirectional process, researchers today increasingly subscribe to the bicultural model because of its ability to take into account the coping mechanisms that are being used at any given point in time, as well as how these are used to facilitate acculturation. For instance, Buscemi concludes that, "The emphasis is now on the individual's ability to negotiate between the two cultural worlds rather than losing connection to the original culture" (2011, p. 40)
Contemporary researchers studying acculturation are increasingly recognizing that the process involves far more than just changes in values, behavior, attitudes and identity; in fact, acculturation includes social, economic and political transformations as well (Choi, 2001). Changes in these factors will depend on the individual circumstances of the African missionary nun. For instance, if an individual nun left relatively affluent living conditions in her home country in exchange for the squalor of an American inner city slum, she might well experience the same types of culture shock that are characteristic of travel from the developed world into the third world. In this regard, Gibson (2001) confirms that the process of acculturative change is affected in part by the location where missionaries settle, the ethnic and social class composition of the communities in which they settle, as well as the presence or absence of co-ethnics within those communities.
Distinguishing Features of Immigrants and Missionary Immigrants. Whenever people pull up stakes and move to another country, there are generally some very compelling reasons for doing so. On the one hand, immigrants may be motivated by economic factors such as gainful employment or for political or religious reasons that will allow them to secure a better life for themselves and their children. On the other hand, missionary immigrants are motivated by vastly different reasons, which relate to their religious commitments and personal zeal for service to others. As noted above, if missionary immigrants leave a relatively affluent and comfortable lifestyle in exchange for a life of austerity and poverty, the acculturation process might be far more difficult and time-consuming. If missionary immigrants leave a lifestyle that was already relatively modest in exchange for life in a host country where the living conditions are far better, it is not surprising that the acculturation process is easier. For instance, according to Haderle (2008), "The implication in the literature to date is that European immigrants, though accustomed to state churches, relatively swiftly adopted the principle of voluntary work in their parishes and thus adapted to the American system of free churches" (p. 26).
Nevertheless, even missionaries with optimal coping skills and resilience may experience some difficulties in the acculturation process. Although there remains a paucity of timely and relevant research concerning the acculturation process experienced by African missionary nuns serving in the United States, some indication of what is involved can be discerned from similar experiences in other developed nations including those in Western Europe. According to the account of one veteran African emigrant to Europe, "Arriving in Europe, the immigrant is thrown into a severe culture shock from which she hardly ever recovers. The illusion that Europeans are nice and welcoming is the first to go" (emphasis added) (Akomolafe, 2001, p. 95). Given the Orwellian qualities of air travel in the United States post-September 11, 2001, it is easy to see the similarities in the experiences of Akomolafe in Europe to what many African missionary nuns must encounter upon their arrival in the United States. In this regard, Akomolafe emphasizes that, "In many parts of Africa, especially in the villages, total strangers are mostly welcomed with huge smiles and a desire to help. The immigrant's first contact with Europe is with stony-faced immigration officers with the countenance of a wolfhound and the friendliness of the Gestapo" (2011, p. 96).
Moreover, unlike African missionary nuns who enjoy the support of their religious order, most immigrants find themselves on their own in their efforts to navigate their way through the bureaucratic maze that is Homeland Security in the United States today. As Akomolafe points out, "When she is finally admitted into the country after a bruising encounter at the port of entry, the senses of the poor immigrant are further assaulted when she finds out that he needs more than his expensive visa to even begin to settle down" (2011, p. 95). This issue becomes even more complicated if immigrants have failed to secure the appropriate residence permits which are required for legal accommodation (Akomolafe, 2011).
For African immigrants finding themselves in this predicament in the United States, the dreams of prosperity and affluence they had are dashed against the harsh realities of life on the bottom rung in America. Indeed, Akomolafe (2011) notes that instead of the American Dream, many African immigrants…
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