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Theory Information

Young Yun Kim's cross-cultural adaptation theory is underpinned by two central questions: (1) How does the cross-cultural adaptation process unfold over time? and (2) Why does the rate or speed of the cross-cultural adaptation process vary across individual cases?

With respect to the first question, the theory offers a three-pronged process model, the stress-adaptation-growth dynamic. This model captures the dialectic, cyclic, and continual draw-back-to-leap process of adaptive change that commonly takes place in individuals over time. Through repeated stress experiences of environmental challenges and adaptive responses to such challenges in the form of new cultural learning, strangers attain an increased functional fitness, a level of effective working relationship with the host environment. Closely associated with the increased functional fitness is a higher level of psychological health reflected in a heightened sense of well-being and satisfaction in one's life vis-a-vis the environment. The model further identifies a subtle, gradual, and largely unconscious change in one's identity from a monocultural to an increasingly intercultural identity, an evolution of self-other orientation beyond conventional categories toward a more individuated and universalized one.

The second question regarding differing adaptation rates or speeds is answered in a structural model, in which key factors of an individual's background (ethnicity, personality, and preparedness for change) and of the host environment (host receptivity, host conformity pressure, and ethnic group strength) influence, and are influenced by, the individual's communication activities (host communication competence, host interpersonal communication, and host mass communication). Together, these dimensions of factors account for the fact that every incidence of cross-cultural adaptation takes place at its own pace. Like a locomotive engine, the workings of the factors operating in this process affect, and are affected by, the workings of all other factors. Out of this dynamic interface arise the fluctuating experiences of stress, adaptation, and growth that, over time, bring about the intercultural evolution of the individual.


Programs that are "connected" to Cross-Cultural Adaptation theory meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Program explicitly helps individuals develop understanding of stress/adaptation/growth model in order to approach their "intercultural evolution" with a higher degree of self-awareness.
  • Program stresses the ongoing nature and unique pace of the process of adaptive change.
  • Program activities are designed to take into account individuals’ varying levels of functional fitness.


Reflections Young Yun Kim
  • Written (45kb Adobe PDF)

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  • Part 2 - Video thumbnail. Click to play.
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