Samuel: Basic tips for successful adaptation in a multi-cultural environment

7.11.2016

It is a common saying that the world is a global village. However, living in a multicultural environment may pose some challenges such as cultural shock and problems with adaptation and settling. These challenges emanate from the disparities in cultural backgrounds, beliefs, ethics etc. It is normal to experience these challenges when one arrives in a new environment particularly one which is multicultural: an environment where the inhabitants are diverse along cultural, ethnic, political, religion, language and tribal lines. It is further characterized by people of different colours, origin, perceptions and nationalities. It is sometimes referred to as an international community due to its high level of cultural diversity. A typical example is the city of Tampere which is one of the most international cities in Finland. This write-up highlights some basic tips and guides for adapting and settling well in a multicultural environment based on my personal experience of living in Tampere.

Tip #1: Be open-minded

The first step towards successful adaptation in a multicultural environment is to have an open mind. An open mind brings about flexibility, helps to avoid shock, makes it easy to learn about other cultures and thus creates an interest to learn and an avenue to better understand the different cultures (beliefs, behaviour, communication styles, gestures, power differences etc.) of the people in the environment. The difference arises from the fact that people are different and they exhibit distinct characters, react to the same issues in different ways, have different views and beliefs and therefore have different ways of life otherwise known as culture. This is why understanding the culture is important and as soon as the fundamental principles and values of these different cultures are well understood, it becomes easy to get along with the people and effectively handle and manage the cultural differences. Open mindedness will help to promote efficient relationships and interactions with people of varying cultures.

Tip #2: Research a little about the environment

As a new entrant in a multicultural environment, a great number of things may appear very strange and may result in some difficulties i.e. psychological, emotional, cultural shock etc. owing to the differences between the entrant’s culture and the culture of the new environment. Having a basic information about the environment in the areas of customs, traditions, cultural beliefs and general way of life even before moving into the environment is a good step towards adapting well in the environment. This mainly involves having knowledge about the people and their social culture. This will help to understand the people and the environment also create an awareness about the environment. This information can be gotten by conducting a little research before moving into the environment and this can be achieved through reading about the environment on the internet or in books, or by speaking with people who are already residing in the environment. This will help to prepare the mind of the person who is planning to move into that environment and may also help in combating initial challenges that may be encountered in that environment.

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Tip #3: Live beyond stereotypes

Different cultures around the world have peculiar stereotypes associated with them. Most times, these stereotypes are often negative. Stereotypes are popularly held beliefs about a particular culture or group of people. They may not be entirely true but may have a fraction of truth in them. They are like tags attached to a particular culture. Most times, it is the first thing that comes to mind when a person hears about that culture. However, it is important to know that there is a possibility that not all people from that culture may exhibit that stereotype. Stereotypes may help to understand certain aspects of a culture but it should not be used as a yardstick (strict rule) for analyzing the culture or making conclusions about it. To adapt effectively in a multicultural environment, it becomes important to look beyond these stereotypes when interacting with people of other cultures in a multicultural environment. This is because looking beyond stereotypes helps to better appreciate people of other cultures and discover great things about them. It helps to open the eyes to see the good things about other cultures. Holding on religiously to stereotypes prevents any opportunity of appreciating and discovering the good and loving aspects of any cultures and builds a bridge towards interactions and relationship with other cultures. Therefore, putting behind all forms of stereotypes and ethnic biases are great steps towards adapting and living effectively in a multicultural environment.

Tip #4: Focus on personalities and not nationalities

A common way of classifying people is according to nationalities. Nationalities may help to form a general understanding of the behavioural and lifestyle patterns of people. These patterns may be positive or negative. However, it is worthy of mention that these patterns may not exactly be the same in all persons of such nationalities. In principle, even though these patterns are common and have been used to form a basis for classification, persons of the same nationality may not exhibit the attributed patterns in exact manners. This is because every human is unique and has the capability of displaying desirable qualities which may be found interesting and worthy of emulating. Therefore, taking time to knowing people as individuals rather than nationalities might be a good way of building a solid and excellent interaction and relationship with people in a multicultural environment. This will help to discover the unique qualities in each person one comes across rather been overwhelmed with a long list of expectations regarding behavioural patterns and ethnic biases.

Tip #5: Don’t be arrogant about your culture

The human race remains highly diverse and composed of numerous cultures. These cultures have varying contrast which makes them to be very unique. A particular culture may possess certain attributes, characteristics, customs and traditions which may be found admirable by another culture. In fact, as it stands today in the world, some traditions and customs have been taken beyond the shores of the regions where they are practiced to other parts of the world as a result of human migration and even the desire to enjoy the benefits it offers by people outside. Some of these traditions have even been fully adopted in their regions of import. All around the world, cultures have mixed greatly. It only goes to show that no single culture is perfect and correct in all ramifications. No particular culture is the ‘holy-grail’ as they all have their peculiarities, unique and admirable qualities. In essence, no culture is the best and no one is superior to the other. Therefore, it is important not to be arrogant about one’s culture but to accept and respect the differences and uniqueness of different cultures. Bearing this in mind will help to integrate, interact and further hasten adaptation in a multi-cultural environment.

In every multicultural environment, challenges will always be encountered by a new entrant. However, they may be met by having a global mindset and a good understanding of the environment and this involves understanding the people as well as the social culture. I believe that the tips provided in this write-up are very essential, geared towards transiting from being ethno-centric to global-centric and will serve a good guide towards successful adaptation in multicultural environments.

Thanks for your time in reading this piece. I hope you enjoyed it. See you in the next blog!