Bridging the Culture Gaps Since 2003
Culture Gaps provides cross-cultural resources to help visitors and expatriates in the United States effectively communicate.
Location: Atlanta, Georgia – USA
Culture Gaps Quickstart Guide
For now, biweekly posts are published on Thursdays. Expect problems to be solved, tips aplenty and lots of stories - all targeted at helping you become an effective communicator in the United States.
Improve how you communicate in the United States with one of my free downloads.
Before I met and fell in love with my wife, I fell in love with her country – Japan! Discover Japan's forty-seven prefectures in a beautifully concise and modern format with Japan 47 or learn to identify and use gestures in Japanese Gestures.
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Hello, my name's Jeff Shibasaki (American). I graduated with honors from Eastern Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in literature and am a CELTA-certified English language instructor. I've worked in Japan, South Korea and Thailand as a curriculum developer, digital content producer and English language instructor at private institutes, schools, university, multinational corporations and government organizations. During that time, I've also lived with the Urak Lawoi (Sea Gypsies) on a remote Thai island, crossed the DMZ into North Korea, cycled across Northern Thailand, South Korea and Japan – and ultimately arrived in time to meet my future wife, Aya (Japanese), sitting across from me at a Tokyo izakaya.
Three years later, we got engaged on Christmas Eve in Japan after an all-day, 'Will-you marry-me?' scavenger hunt. Since our wedding day, the zest we share for travel and culture has driven us to climb Mt. Fuji, publish books on Japanese gestures and Japan's 47 prefectures, cross the Pacific Ocean by ship, cross the USA by train, present at Georgia’s Japan Fest and much more.
Just as life led me around the world in a fantastic, decade-long adventure that culminated with meeting Aya, my entrepreneurial endeavors have been a journey as well.
In Thailand, I commissioned hundreds of red and green artisan boxes and handmade Christmas cards to sell online for the holiday season.
In South Korea, I wrote about my experiences as a freelance travel writer.
In Japan, I developed student-centered iPad curriculums and implemented a flipped classroom model for adults learning business communication skills under the business name Ready To Go and also self-published ebooks about Japanese culture under the publisher name, Pangea's Tribe.
Back home in the United States, I established a web design company called Bento Sites to help small businesses establish a high-quality online presence that converted organic traffic into customers.
Throughout these endeavors, I never really considered myself entrepreneurial – it just became a recurring need to meet others, facilitate engaging experiences and improve cross-cultural communication. Ultimately, my failures, minor successes and the decision of returning to the U.S. after a 12-year absence eventually led to Culture Gaps.
The Origin Story
I'm a returnee – someone who returns home after a prolonged absence. For more than a decade, I lived abroad and helped everyone from sea gypsies to senior executives learn English, improve cross-cultural communication and bridge the culture gaps. However, when I finally returned to the United States for the first time in over 12 years, my arrival quickly became less of a homecoming and more of an arduous journey called reverse culture shock.
To learn about culture shock, read my post – The 4 Stages of Culture Shock.
Stage 1: The Honeymoon Stage
My wife, Aya, and I decided to move from Japan to the U.S. First, we embarked on a transpacific crossing from Tokyo to Vancouver for an amazing 2 weeks at sea. After disembarking in Vancouver, we entered the U.S. via Amtrak and for the next 3 weeks continued riding the train across the United States, stopping in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio and New Orleans. The final destination to our fantastic and unforgettable journey culminated with the arrival to our new home – Atlanta, Georgia.
If you can imagine living abroad for a dozen years in countries where English is not an official language, then you can imagine the comfort and satisfaction I felt to effortlessly read signs, menus and advertisements again, to see family and friends again, to meander the grocery store aisles as if they were vintage toy stores. This was my 12-year reunion with the United States. We were having a blast!
Stage 2: The Crisis Stage
Most middle-aged American men weren't pillaging through dust-covered plastic containers that served as time capsules to their former selves nor trying to recall the way things were done in Michigan (my home state) more than a decade ago and comparing that outdated information with how things are done in Atlanta today.
Studying to get a driver's license, leasing a car, applying and interviewing for Aya's green card, finding an apartment, setting up health insurance and learning pop culture references all left me feeling like the most irrelevant and obsolete American.
Nobody was interested in where I'd been nor what I'd accomplished abroad. Only the present mattered, but the present was an unnerving chain of misunderstandings, non-understandings and misinterpretations.
What should've been familiar, wasn't. Who should've been familiar, wasn't. People didn't understand me. I didn't fully understand them. Language had changed. Customs had changed. Systems had changed. I had changed. I felt like a foreigner in my own country.
Plagued by unnatural pauses and unable to quickly recall vocabulary that I hadn't accessed in over a decade made uncomfortable, intolerable. Being the victim of a head-on car accident only made bad, worse.
"Say yellow," said my brother.
"It sounds funny."
"Yellow is not my only problem."
Stage 3: The Recovery Stage
"12 straight years outside the U.S." reflected an old friend. "That's all of elementary, middle school and high school. That's three presidential terms. And you returned on a boat!"
"It was a ship."
"You're like an immigrant! You and Aya arrived here with nothing. Just backpacks and initiative!"
"Are you helping?"
"You're an anomaly."
"Can you say something positive?"
"Don't worry. Sometimes your weaknesses can become your greatest asset."
Slowly, I stopped comparing the U.S. with other countries I'd lived abroad and began to accept the cultural differences. As I relearned, rediscovered and reclaimed my culture, I understood how even the most well-intentioned visitor, expatriate, immigrant or returnee can get baffled, nervous and confused – and that can lead to miscommunication (misunderstandings, non-understandings and misinterpretations). Knowing what to do, expect and avoid can help bridge those gaps.
Eventually, I established Culture Gaps to help visitors to the U.S. and permanent residents effectively communicate in the United States.
Stage 4: The Adjustment Stage
It's now been a few years since Aya and I stepped off the train in Atlanta. I no longer feel irrelevant, obsolete and distressed by cultural differences and my speaking speed and pronunciation have returned. Returning to the U.S. has been an incredible inward and outward journey with immeasurable personal growth. We're comfortable now. We belong.
Sometimes your weaknesses can become your greatest asset – knowing how to transcend those weaknesses into strengths can be the key to success.