Traveling to new lands can be exciting and exhilarating. One can discover new passions, alternative world views, open-mindedness, and willingness to explore new cultures. People travel and migrate for a variety of reasons. Historically, people migrated to discover and conquer new lands. After that, people migrated from Europe to the west and to unestablished countries to build them and ignite the embers of a new empire and colonization. People migrate to find better opportunities, reunite with their families, escape persecution, roam the world, escape war and famine, and more. Technology has made travel and migration simpler for some and more complicated for others. New and improved monitoring systems have made it harder for illegal immigrants to enter countries, while air travel advances have made business travel comfortable and straightforward.
There are four types of migrants: sojourners, immigrants, short-term refugees, and long-term refugees. Every kind of migrant has to adapt to their culture, but some have an easier time than others. Culture shock occurs as a part of the cultural transition, usually before assimilation. Assimilation does not always require significant adjustments or shifts in daily patterns. For some immigrants and migrants, culture shock comes when encountering situations in a new environment that significantly differ from one’s cultural background and lifestyle. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be challenging, even for experienced travelers, and feelings of isolation and frustration can occur. Feelings of fear, isolation, and frustration are normal and often described as culture shock (Yale, 2020).
Culture shock is not the only pitfall for migrants. A dialectical perspective on transitions reveals the tension between the individual and the societal level of cultural adaptation (Martin-Nakayma, 2018). Transitioning into a new culture is a unique experience for each person who experiences it. Some people may flow seamlessly into their contemporary society; for example, business travelers often receive bonuses or stipends for traveling, they may have established business partners in the region, and they may have a very comfortable living arrangement in place. On the other hand, refugee migrants are often thrown into a new culture from a hostile situation without financial resources or support.
The dialectical approach outlines the complexities of the power and dominance relationships between migrants and hosts. The primary reasons to migrate can involve economic or noneconomic reasons and complex push-pull (dialectical) factors (Martin-Nakayama, 2018). Migrant-host relationships are a delicate balance between acceptance, respect, and open-mindedness. Generally, migrants want to assimilate into society by maintaining their unique culture, perspectives, and customs while developing their new culture. If a newcomer to culture is not comfortable incorporating yet or is not interested in assimilating for various reasons, they may choose to stay separate. When cultures are separated, individuals retain their original culture while interacting minimally with other groups. Separation may be initiated and enforced by the dominant society, in which case it becomes segregation. (Martin-Nakayama, 2018).
The United States, unfortunately, has a rich history of racial segregation and isolation of different cultures. Racial segregation provides a means of maintaining the politically dominant group’s economic advantages and superior social status. In recent times it has been employed primarily by white populations to maintain their ascendancy over other groups utilizing legal and social color bars. Historically, however, various conquerors—among them Asian Mongols, African Bantus, and American Aztecs—practiced discrimination involving the segregation of subject races (Tikkanen, 2020).
Every country has a past, and each culture has a story. Whether someone is traveling for pleasure or fleeing the tyranny of a desecrated homeland, cultural intelligence and understanding are invaluable. Our world is becoming a melting pot, and we must evolve or be left behind.
Office of International Students and Scholars. Cultural Transition. (2020, April 27). Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://oiss.yale.edu/cultural-adjustment-transition/cultural-transition
Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2018). Intercultural communication in contexts: Instructor’s resource manual to accompany. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publ.
Tikkanen, A. (2020, January 14). Racial segregation. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/racial-segregation