Do you ever talk about culture shock? Are you responsible for helping those relocating abroad or returning from an overseas assignment? In that work, do you reference the U-curve or the W-curve?

If so, your approach has some fatal flaws according to many academics (Pedersen, Berry) and practitioners, and has been completely rejected by others (Ward), as is explained in some depth in Kate Berardo’s research (Luton Business School, University of Befordshire UK).

The U-curve, which Kate tells us was developed by Sverre Lysgaard in 1955:

1. Oversimplifies the adjustment process.
2. Does not apply to everyone and may not apply to people you work with.
3. Has unsubstantiated predictability and inexplicable elasticity.
4. Does not address socio-cultural skill development or identity development.
5. Addresses only the “what,” not the “how” or the “why” of cross-cultural adjustment.


Kate (co-author of Cultural Detective Self Discovery and our upcoming Cultural Detective Bridging Skills packages) presents a new, more robust, process-oriented model for transition training, comprised of four key components (see graphic below). She herself cautions that the model is nothing revolutionary, but that it emphasizes the need to personalize transition facilitation.

Kate’s article provides various activities, exercises and designs for more effectively aiding cross-cultural transitions. It is definitely worth downloading if you have not already done so.

I’ve known about Kate’s research for quite a few years, but I recently had the opportunity to hear Kate talk about it again. And I heard what she had to say with fresh ears, as I saw the myriad connections between her model and the Cultural Detective method. Cultural Detective is a process, one of the only process-based tools in the intercultural field. By its nature Cultural Detective is personalized, guiding us to discover more about ourselves and how we have come to be the individuals we are.

Let’s start with her upper left quadrant: Experience/The What. Kate tells us that this quadrant includes:
• Experiencing cross-cultural challenges,
• Addressing assumptions, and
• Recognizing the emotional complexity of the intercultural experience.

Each and every Cultural Detective Critical Incident does exactly that; the Worksheet guides learners to make meaning from their experiences, to define their assumptions, and to go beyond recognizing the complexity to effectively navigating intercultural situations.

The upper right quadrant of Kate’s model: Understand/The Why, includes:
• Acknowledging the multitude of variables that influence cross-cultural interaction,
• Personalizing the adjustment/development process, and
• Generating with rather than generalizing to the learner.

Again, this is inherently what Cultural Detective is all about. The Worksheet addresses observable words and actions as well as underlying values and motivations. Values Lenses can be layered in order to look at the various cultural influences (gender, age, spiritual tradition, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.) each of us hold within us. The entire Cultural Detective approach is geared around dialogue and discovery, helping learners learn how to learn, how to resolve conflict, how to co-create mutually worthwhile solutions.

The lower right quadrant of Kate’s model: Personalize/The How, includes focusing on likely transition stresses rather than on a one-size-fits all laundry list, and using past transitions or stressful events as sources of knowledge and strength. Again, her model is a smooth dovetail with the Cultural Detective model. Incidents encourage learners to focus on the differences that make a difference to specific people in given situations. Personal Values Lenses (from Cultural Detective Self Discovery) take learners on a journey of understanding and explicating what is important to them and why.

The lower left quadrant, Apply/The What Now, is most clearly linked to the "Cultural Bridges: Skills and Systems" portion of the Cultural Detective Worksheet. Kate tells us this portion of her model involves:
• Developing strategies that are detailed, personalized and specific.

There are few tools in the intercultural field, sadly, that enable learners to develop strategies and skills in addition to awareness, respect and understanding, but Cultural Detective does just that.

We are fortunate to have some very talented members on our Cultural Detective team, and very much enjoy witnessing the organic, holistic way in which they work to develop new models and approaches for improving intercultural competence.

Contact Kate or visit her website to learn more.

Those of you interested in this article may find a few of our business cases, helpful, namely those on Expatriate Success/Predeparture Orientation and Study Abroad.