November 7, 2012
Expats Must Embrace Host Cultures
If instead of international travel, one is looking forward to living abroad, then that person should definitely embrace the host culture. A new study from Tel Aviv University found that living abroad has more impact when one actually lives in the host culture as opposed to living with other expatriates from the home culture. People have a tendency to live with those who are from their own cultures when living abroad. What TAU’s study found is that these individuals did not fully experience the benefits of living in another country.
In the study, TAU performed three experiments. In the first, the researchers asked 78 MBA students at a European university to complete a common creativity exercise: describe as many uses for a brick as possible within two minutes. All of the study participants had lived abroad for a period of time and represented 26 different nationalities. In a correlating experiment, 54 MBA students from an American business school were asked to describe new businesses, products, and processes they had invented during their career. Again, all of the study participants had lived abroad, but only 18 nationalities were represented in the American school study.
According to the report on the study, these two experiments showed that “…those who identified with both their host culture and their home culture consistently demonstrated more fluency, flexibility, novelty and motivation.”
In a third experiment, 100 Israelis who lived and worked mainly in California’s Silicon Valley were interviewed. The interviews found that like those participants in the first two experiments, those who identified with both host culture and home culture proved to experience higher promotion rates and better reputations among their colleagues.
Therefore, these bicultural individuals—that is those who identified with host and home cultures—ranked higher on integrative complexity tests than other participants.
All of this shows that individuals living abroad are more successful and more creative when they embrace both their home cultures as well as their host cultures. That means that when individuals live abroad, they must immerse themselves in the culture that they are living as opposed to simply finding other individuals of their home cultures to pal around with.
This seems pretty obvious to me. Why would someone live in another culture if that person did not want to experience the new culture completely? I know it is scary to think of being in a new culture without much of one’s home culture, but living abroad is about exposure to new cultures, ideas, activities, and people. Naturally, one should want to find someone or many others from her home culture, but these should not be the only people an expat seeks out.
If we live abroad, even for a short period of time, we should embrace the culture we live in. Even when we travel abroad, we should take that opportunity to learn more and experience more about the new culture. Obviously, living abroad provides us greater opportunities to embrace the host cultures, and we should jump on those. If we simply stay within our host cultures, we shouldn’t even live abroad. We miss out on so much.
Living abroad provides a surfeit of benefits. The experience can contribute to a better work environment, provide us with myriad creative opportunities, and expose us to new ideas and activities. But we can only benefit if we embrace a host culture in addition to our home culture. Otherwise, why even live abroad?
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