with joseph campbell

exploring the unconscious world of Dreams through Myth, Symbols & Metaphor

The Intercultural Sojourn as the Hero's Journey

William B. Hart
Department of Communication & Theatre Arts
Old Dominion University

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his[/her] fellow [people].

-- Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949, p. 30.

[W]e have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.

-- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, 1988, p. 123.

The four main disciplines of intercultural relations (anthropology, sociology, psychology and communication) have for several decades added to our understanding of intercultural relations (Hart, 1998). In a previous issue of The Edge, Kelly and Hart (1998), in a brief piece, asked what could other "disciplines" like religion say about intercultural relations. Kelly and Hart wondered what some of the major world religions have to say about intercultural relations (ICR). Do the texts of the world's major religions have anything to offer us on how to treat a person culturally different from us? Could religious texts guide us in our encounters in other cultures? In the previous article Kelly and Hart addressed specifically the contributions of Indian spiritual traditions to an understanding of intercultural interactions. In what follows I would like to move from religion to mythology and ask, can the study of mythology serve to guide us in our encounters in other cultures? Specifically, here we look at the contributions of the noted authority on mythology, Joseph Campbell. We will explore how Campbell's interpretation of mythology (specifically his discussion of the hero's journey) helps us better understand intercultural sojourns.

The Hero's Journey

Campbell tells the common story of the hero   As Campbell outlines in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the hero's journey consists of three parts - the departure, the initiation, and the return.  Each of the three stages can also be divided further (see Table 1).  Figure 1 shows graphically the hero's journey.  Each of the stages are explained in the following section.

Table 1.  Stages of the Hero's Journey

Departure Common World
Call to Adventure
Refusal of Call
Supernatural Aid
Crossing First Threshold
Initiation Road of Trials
Supreme Ordeal
The Ultimate Boon
Return Refusal of the Return
Crossing the Return Threshold
Master of the Two Worlds

Note: Table 1 is based on Campbell's (1949) description 
of the hero journey typically found in mythology.


The Departure

The hero begins her journey in the everyday world surrounded by things familiar. It is the world common to her, her society -- a society that has nurtured and raised her. There comes a time, however, when the hero will leave her everyday world. A herald enters and brings to the hero a call to adventure. The hero may feel that she has outgrown the old ways, feeling restless, voluntarily enters the portal into another world. In myths this unknown place is represented as a dark forest, a kingdom underground, a mountain top, etc. Sometimes the unknown place into which the hero travels is literally a distant land.

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The hero may sometimes reluctantly, cautiously enters into the strange new world. The strange world is both a place of treasures and troubles. Sometimes the hero refuses the call altogether out of fear of the unknown. The troubles in the strange place, at this point for the hero, outweigh the treasures. Anxiety and uncertainty raise their ugly heads. The hero is fixated in the safe everyday world and is unwilling or perhaps unable to cut the umbilical chord that connects her to her mother-land. Not all who get the call heed it. "The usual person is more than content, he[/she] is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds..."(p. 78).

According to Campbell, now is the time that a supernatural aid, a mentor, visits the hero. The mentor helps the hero get past her fears. The mentor builds confidence and gives guidance. The mentor may be one who has been down the hero-path in the past and now offers wisdom from that experience. The mentor "provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he[/she] is about to pass"(1949, p. 69). For example, in the modern-day myth, Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi served as Luke Skywalker's mentor.

Typically in myth, the mentor takes the hero only so far. The mentor provides the amulets, but then steps back to let the hero cross the first threshold on her own. The hero must face the unknown world on her own. At the "gates of metamorphosis" the adventurer meets the threshold guardians. The threshold guardians protect the passage and the hero must somehow step past the monsters to enter the alien world. "Beyond [the guardians] is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe" (p. 77-78).

The Initiation

"Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him[/her] (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers)" (p. 246). The hero now heads down the road of trials and faces many tests, but does not always face them alone. Helpers are found along the road that teach the stranger (the hero) the ways of the new world. Hercules did not have to face his 12 labors alone; Hermes and Athena served as his helpers with magical aid.

At the end of the road of trials is what Campbell calls the supreme ordeal. In myths the supreme ordeal comes in a few standard forms, but "intrinsically [the supreme ordeal] is an expansion of consciousness" for the hero (p. 246). In some myths the supreme ordeal is symbolized as a sacred marriage of the hero to the goddess-mother, or as the hero finding atonement with the father-creator, or as the hero becoming god-like, or lastly simply as the hero taking a prize from the gods like Prometheus stealing fire.

What is common to these four versions of the supreme ordeal is the transformation of consciousness for the hero. The hero gains enlightenment through her actions. She is transformed. She is initiated into a new realm. The initiation, however, is not easy.

The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth.... finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form - all symbolization, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void. (p. 190)

The hero is born again. She has gained the ultimate boon.

The Return

Now with the boon in hand (or in mind), the hero contemplates the return. The hero begins "the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may rebound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds" (p. 193). The return is a challenge. Why return? The hero could refuse the return. "For the bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the wakened state" (p. 207). Her new found world is far more attractive than the old. And if she does return, what then? What good would her return have? Who would listen to her stories and share of her boon? "Even the Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of the realization could be communicated..."(p. 193).

Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast" (p. 218).

Difficult has it is, however, the hero must return to complete the cycle. Even if she does not want to return, her old world calls her home.

As the hero crosses the return threshold, returning from the "yonder zone" she eventually comes to the realization that

the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know... The values and distinctions that in normal life seem important disappear with the terrifying assimilation of the self into what formerly was only otherness. (p. 217)

She comes to understand that home is not a place.

The hero's task now is to share her enlightenment. But how

render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional form...? How translate into terms of "yes" and "no" revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void? (p. 218)

Crossing the return threshold is also not an easy task. Sometimes the hero returns and her world does not want what she brings. Her old community finds it difficult to use what she brought back, "it doesn't know how to receive it"(1988,p. 141). Apart from difficulties of the hero sharing her boon with her world, she also must come to grips with being a transfigured being in a world that is not. She walks in both worlds. "Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division ... [and] not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other-- is the talent of the master." (p. 229). She is a master of two worlds.

Intercultural Sojourning and the Hero's Journey

The Intercultural Sojourning Literature

The hero's journey commonly found in myth has interesting parallels to intercultural sojourning as described in the literature (see Table 2). Anthropologist Cora DuBois first used the term "culture shock" in 1951 to describe the experience that anthropologist face when entering different cultures (Oberg, 1954). Oberg (1954) expanded DuBois' term to be applicable to all people who travel abroad into new cultures. Oberg called culture shock an "occupational disease" that international travelers face, complete with symptoms (e.g., feeling of helplessness, home-sickness, irritability, etc.).

Table 2. A Comparison of the Hero's Journey and the Intercultural Sojourn

Departure Common World  
Call to Adventure
Refusal of Call
Supernatural Aid
Crossing First Threshold Honeymoon stage*
Initiation Road of Trials  
Supreme Ordeal Crisis*
The Ultimate Boon Recovery*
Return Refusal of the Return  
Crossing the Return Threshold Return home**
Crisis at home**
Master of the Two Worlds Adjustment at home**

Note: Table 2 is comparison of Campbell's (1949) hero's journey and the stages of intercultural sojourning described by Oberg (1960), and Gallahorn & Gallahorn (1963). Some optional "stages" of the hero's journey do not appear above and some of the labels for the stages have been altered. This slight modification, however, does not take away from the overall applicability of the hero's journey motif to better understanding the intercultural sojourn. * from Oberg (1960); ** from Gullahourn & Gallahourn (1963).

Lysgaard (1955) studied Norwegian Fulbright scholars in the United States and found that sojourners go through three stages of adjustment: initial adjustment, crisis, and regained adjustment. Lysgaard's study goes beyond culture shock (or the crisis experience) and addresses the stages before and after the crisis. Oberg (1960) identified slightly different stages of the international sojourn: (1) the honeymoon stage where the sojourn is enthusiastic about being in a new place, (2) the crisis where the cultural difference lead to culture shock, (3) the recovery where the sojourner gradually learns how to better function in the new culture, and (4) the adjustment where the sojourn is comfortable and functioning well in the new culture. Drawing upon the past stage models of intercultural sojourning, Gullahorn & Gullahorn (1963) pictured the international traveler going through a U-curve of adjustment (see the first half of Figure 2). Upon entering the new culture the sojourner is in good spirits, but gradually faces more and more difficulties eventually leading the lowest level of depression and frustration. In the midst of the crisis (culture shock), there is now no where else to go. The sojourner has hit bottom. The sojourner gradually adjusts and gains back their good spirit.

Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) extended the U-curve model to include the sojourner's return home. Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) found that when the sojourner returned home they often experienced a similar adjustment process (often referred to as reentry or reverse culture shock). The sojourner had to re-adjust to their home culture. In the whole process (entry and reentry) the traveler experienced two U-curves of adjustment or a W-curve (see Figure 2).

During the 1970s scholars continued to develop new perspectives on the intercultural sojourning experience. Adler (1975) proposed a five-stage model:
(1) Contact where the sojourner is cut off from their home culture but is excited the novelty of the new environment.
(2) Disintegration where the cultural differences become more prominent and the sojourner faces confusion, depression and isolation.
(3) Reintegration where the sojourner rejects the foreign culture and expresses rebellion and hostility.
(4) Autonomy where the sojourner learns the new language and cultural rules and becomes more relaxed and self-assured.
(5) Independence where the differences in culture are now accepted and enjoyed.

Edward T. Hall, wrote the first book on intercultural communication, The Silent Language (1959). The Silent Language primarily dealt with cultural differences in communication. His later book, Beyond Culture (1976), addressed the process of becoming aware of our own culture. According to Hall, we do not become fully aware of our own culture until we have an experience like an intercultural sojourn. One of the primary influences in Hall's work is Sigmund Freud's study of the unconscious (Rogers and Hart, 1998). For Hall (1959, 1976) much of what we call culture is outside our awareness. It operates on the unconscious level and to become aware of that which is unconscious there must be an "experience of separation," a separation crisis. The intercultural sojourner "cuts the apron strings" that connect her to her mother-land (her cultural group) and in doing so the sojourner becomes fully aware of culture and thus moves beyond culture.

[Humankind] must now embark on the difficult journey beyond culture, because the greatest separation feat of all is when one manages to gradually free oneself from the grip of unconscious culture. (1976, p. 240)

Using the language of psychoanalysis, Hall referred to the process of moving "beyond culture" as the "identity-separation-growth dynamism"(1976, p. 227).

Bennett (1977) recognized culture shock as a subcategory of transition shock. According to this perspective, the experience of culture shock is like any other stability-threatening transition in our lives (e.g., going away to college, getting married, getting a divorce, experiencing a death of friend or family member, etc.). All of these transitions have common symptoms and stages. The symptoms include irritability, frustration, disorientation, helplessness and withdraw. The stages, too, are similar. In her description Bennett uses stages identified by Sergeant (1973). In transition experiences, first we may fight that which is new, literally with aggression, or we may choose to take flight to escape the challenging situation. We may literally leave the environment or withdraw internally. If fight and flight do not work we may attempt to filter out that which stresses us. Here we deny reality. In the last stage, flex, we come to accept and/or find value in the new situation.

In a more recent model Kim (1988) suggests that intercultural sojourning is a process of stress, adaptation and growth. While past models have focused on levels of psychological affect , Kim's model focuses on the role of communication in the sojourning process. The reaction to stress, according to Kim, is to adapt. The sojourner adapts by communicating with the people of the other culture. In her interactions with people of the new culture, the sojourner gradually learns the ways of the new culture. The sojourner "grows into a new kind of person at a higher level of integration" (Gudykunst and Kim, 1997, p. 362).

Another interesting, more recent perspective compares culture shock to schizophrenia. In a section covering cross-cultural adaptation of his edited book, Weaver (1996) states that "culture shock may be a form of acute or reactive schizophrenia" (p. 154). Symptoms of schizophrenia include heightened anxiety, illogical thinking, and withdrawal from reality. These symptoms stem from patients being highly sensitive to stimuli in their environment. A schizophrenic patient remarks that, for example, "things are coming in too fast. I lose my grip of it and get lost. I am attending to everything at once and as a result I do not really attend to anything" (Maher, 1996). Being overwhelmed with stimuli is a problem commonly faced by people entering a new cultural environment.

Weaver (1994) includes in his book a chapter in which the author, Silverman (1994), views some forms of schizophrenia as being positive and "creatively constructive." Some psychiatrists, like Harry Stack Sullivan, have long acknowledged the positive aspects of the schizophrenic breakdown. "[S]chizophenic disorganizations are preludes to impressive reorganization and personality growth -- not so much a breakdown as a breakthrough" (Silverman, 1994, p. 207). If the culture shock of an intercultural sojourner is comparable to a schizophrenic episode, then the culture shock experience, too, can be seen as being "creatively constructive," "personality growth," and not a breakdown, but "a breakthrough."

The Intercultural Sojourn as a Hero's Journey

The parallels between intercultural sojourning and the hero's journey of Campbell are remarkable. First, Campbell's stages of the hero's journey run parallel to the stage models of intercultural sojourning (see Table 1). Lysagaard's (1955) model of initial adjustment- crisis-regained adjustment, Oberg's (1960) model of honeymoon-crisis-recovery-adjustment, and Adler's (1975) model of contact-disintegration-reintegration-autonomy-independence are all comparable to the middle stages of the hero's journey. The hero, like the intercultural sojourner, crosses into the new land, faces difficulties, ultimately facing a major crisis (or supreme ordeal), and then recovers.

The W-curve model of intercultural sojourning, originally developed by Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963), like in the hero's journey, brings the sojourner full circle, back home. The middle stages and the return stages of the hero's journey cover the stages of the W-curve. After the sojourner has recovered from the "supreme ordeal" and has gained a higher level of consciousness, the sojourner returns home, but only to face more difficulty. The sojourner (or hero) must readjust to home and become a master of two worlds. It should be noted here that Campbell includes as part of the return process the refusal of the return. This stage is commonly talked about in the intercultural sojourning literature as "going native," but is not integrated into sojourning models. The hero's journey model integrates and shows the relevance of the refusal (see above description on the refusal of the call).

Second, Weaver's (1994) comparison of culture shock to schizophrenia helps equate the intercultural sojourn with the hero's journey. The syllogism works as follows:
The hero's experience is like that of the schizophrenic patient (Campbell, 1972).
The experiences of schizophrenic patient are similar to a person suffering culture shock (Weaver, 1996).

Thus, by logic, the experience of the intercultural sojourner going through culture shock is like the experience of the hero on her journey. If the premises are accepted, then the conclusion can not be denied.

Third, the language and intellectual roots of Campbell's hero's journey are not completely foreign to those who study intercultural sojourning. Campbell draws upon the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung when discussing the transformation of the hero's consciousness. One of the founders of intercultural relations study, Edward T. Hall (1959, 1976), in his discussion of the unconscious nature of culture also drew upon the work of Freud and Jung. Hall (1976) called for us to become aware of the unconscious nature of culture by means of a "crisis of separation." As a result of a separation crisis, according to Hall, we move beyond the constraints of our culture. Noted intercultural scholar, Dean Barnlund (1975), also speaks of the "cultural unconscious," much like Hall. Barnlund accredits the idea of "cultural unconscious" to anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Barnlund implies that beyond the constraints of the cultural unconscious is the "collective unconscious." The collective unconscious is a term coined by Jung to refer to the aspects of the unconscious shared by all of humankind. Hall, Barlund and Campbell are speaking the same language.

Fourth, Bennett's (1977) placing of culture shock within the broader category of transition shock also ties the hero's journey to intercultural sojourning. For Campbell the hero myths are not simple stories of the past, but myths serve as a guide in our present-day lives when we face a time of transition.

The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero's passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. The individual has only to discover his[/her] own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past this restricting wall. (1949, p. 121)

The proper reading of the hero myth can help us in our times of transition whether this be going off to college, getting married, or going on an intercultural sojourn. The hero-potential for transformation lies with in all of these life-challenges.


Discussion and Conclusion

The strong parallels between intercultural sojourning and Campbell's description of the hero's journey suggest that there may be value in developing a hero's journey model of intercultural sojourning. The hero's journey model has the potential of adding much to our understanding of the intercultural sojourning process. The hero's journey model of intercultural sojourning helps us understand important aspects of intercultural sojourn not covered in other sojourning models. First, the hero's journey model, for example, could help us make sense out of our intercultural sojourning experience. The hero's journey model gives the intercultural sojourn meaning -- gives it purpose. Unlike some of the stage-models where the sojourner is simply told what will happen to them, the hero's journey model goes beyond description and prescribes the goal of the journey (obtain the ultimate boon and share it with your world). The hero's journey model has a normative nature to it. It tells us of the potential that can be found in intercultural sojourning. If we so choose to follow the hero-path, we can experience a transformation and be a "master of two worlds."

Second, the hero's journey model also extends our understanding of the complete intercultural sojourning process. It adds stages important to the intercultural sojourning process but not typically covered in other models. The hero's journey model carefully considers the stages that lead up to a traveler going into another culture. The journey begins before the actual departure into the foreign land. The stage models in the literature, for more the most part, ignore what happens before entering the foreign culture. The hero's journey model starts with the potential-sojourner in her/his common world. The hero then receives the call to adventure, but may refuse it due to the fear of the unknown. Also, as was mentioned previously the hero's journey model also includes the 'going native' aspect of intercultural sojourning as a potential stage in the overall journey.

Third, the hero's journey model introduces the idea that the different people we encounter during our sojourn play roles commonly found in the hero myth (the mentor, the helper, etc.). The early stages of the hero's journey model show the role of the intercultural trainer in the intercultural sojourn. The intercultural trainer is the mentor, the one who provides amulets to fight the dragons and then sends the hero on their way. Metaphorically speaking, sojourner is like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars and the intercultural trainer is like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda ("Help you, I can"). (See "Joseph Campbell: Man and Message" for further discussion on Star Wars and myths.) Once in the foreign place Campbell's hero is not alone. He/she has "helpers" (or cultural informants) who help him/her with the rules of the new place.

Fourth, the hero's journey model also helps bring together the intercultural sojourning literature (see above) with the literature of intercultural transformation or multicultural personhood (e.g., Adler, 1982; Bennett, 1993; Kim, 1994). Within an intercultural sojourn is the potential for the sojourner to face the supreme ordeal and come out of the experience with multicultural personhood (in Campbell's language "a master of two worlds"). This is not to say, however, that all intercultural sojourners attain multicultural personhood, but only that the potential is there. Some may hide from the demon.

(See "Joseph Campbell: Man and Message" for  details about Campbell and his work)

Further work is needed to more fully explore the deeper connections between what Campbell describes as the hero's journey and the intercultural sojourn. Campbell's work (especially with its connections to Freudian and Jungian psychology) is rich with heuristic value. With the intercultural sojourn in mind, one can not help but read the words of Campbell and find the deeper insight to be explored. Stop. Recall now your own intercultural sojourning experiences. Now, read the following words where Campbell (1988) describes our journey, our intercultural sojourn.

And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world. (p. 123)