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From immigrants and refugees seeking to build a new life in a foreign land to temporary sojourners such as international students and employees of multinational companies, numerous people change homes each year crossing cultural boundaries. Although unique in circumstances, all cultural strangers embark on the common project of acculturation: the learning, practicing, and internalizing of the symbols and routinized behaviors prevalent in the new cultural environment. The acculturation phenomenon often accompanies the experience of ‘deculturation,’ that is, at least temporary unlearning or replacement of some of the original cultural habits. The interplay of acculturation and deculturation experiences facilitates ‘cross-cultural adaptation,’ the process of internal change in the individual leading to a relatively stable, reciprocal, and functional relationship with a given host environment. Given sufficient time, even those who interact with natives with the intention of confining themselves to only superficial relationships are likely to be at least minimally adapted to the host culture “in spite of themselves” (Taft 1977, 150).
Since the 1930s, research on immigrant acculturation has been extensive across social science disciplines, and has produced ample empirical evidence documenting the long-term, cumulative adaptive change in individuals, the direction of assimilation, a state of psychological, social, and cultural convergence to those of the natives. Kim’s (2001) integrative theory of cross-cultural adaptation, for example, offers a multidimensional model, in which cultural strangers’ intrapersonal, interpersonal, and mass communication activities drive the dynamic and interactive process of becoming increasingly ‘fit’ in their psychological and functional relationship with the host environment.
The traditional cumulative–progressive trajectory has been challenged in recent decades by some investigators who conceive the acculturation–adaptation phenomenon from a pluralistic perspective on intergroup relations. Among the widely utilized pluralistic approaches is Berry’s (1980) psychological theory of acculturation. Focusing on individuals’ conscious or unconscious identity orientations with respect to their original culture and the host society, Berry’s theory identifies four “acculturation strategies”: “assimilation,” “integration,” “separation,” and “marginalization.”
- Berry, J. (1980). Acculturation as varieties of adaptation. In A. Padilla (ed.), Acculturation: theory: Models and some new findings. Washington, DC: Westview, pp. 9–25.
- Kim, Y. Y. (2001). Becoming intercultural: An integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Taft, R. (1977). Coping with unfamiliar cultures. In n. Warren (ed.), Studies in cross-cultural psychology, vol. 1. London: Academic Press, pp. 121–153.