5 Steps to Creating a Hybrid Identity

In Iran, it is very common that people who work in shops or in the taxi will say to you something that literally means: “this service is for you”. Essentially, the literal translation of this is that their service is for free.

Many foreigners who experience this firstly take their offer seriously, become positively surprised, and say: “Oh, thank you so much!”. Not a very happy situation for the Iranian salesman or taxi driver, who simply wanted to show his or her politeness and respect by making you a compliment.

The problem in this situation is that the words “this service is for you” are a stimulus which all Iranians will understand as being a sign of politeness and respect, not a sincere offer to make it free. They will also expect that you understand the correct cultural script which serves as a response to this: “No, thank you”.

One of the preconditions of developing a hybrid cultural identity is that first we are moving overseas, where we constantly receive stimuli like this that are unknown to us.

Step one: shifting from subconscious, to conscious attention

When we receive a constant stream of unfamiliar stimuli like this, then this will produce a situation of mental overload for us. Since we haven’t ingrained the appropriate cultural stimuli to these situations, our brains are forced to pay conscious attention to these signals, as opposed to letting the subconscious mind do all the work.

This is also the purpose of cultural scripts: since we already know how to respond to a certain stimulus, cultural scripts allow us to let our subconscious mind process all the information, which takes a much smaller amount of mental effort.

Step two: determining to whom you are accountable

There is a very interesting insight which research has provided: essentially, whether we are creating a hybrid identity, or whether we remain purely part of our culture of origin, or whether we assimilate fully into the host culture, all depends to which group of people we feel the most accountable.

If, for instance, you are a Norwegian manager who is moving to India, it all depends on which group of people you feel the most attached to, and you feel the most accountable to. If its the Indian managers, then most likely you will fully adapt to the Indian culture. If its a mixture between Indian managers and expatriates, however, then you will most likely develop a hybrid identity.

Step three: you will experience a feeling of cognitive dissonance

When encounter behaviours which clearly show that the values, beliefs and worldviews of the people from the other culture are completely different from our own, this creates a sense of inner conflict and stress within us.

We have to start reconciling these differences within ourselves, and this can be a highly emotionally painful process. Now, how strongly we will feel this sense of dissonance depends on what group of people we start feeling accountable to. Ironically, the process of attaining cultural hybridity is the most uncomfortable one, as it forces us to try and find a balance between these two opposing values.

If, on the other hand, we are either feeling accountable to people from our culture of origin, or purely people from our host culture, this process will be much easier. After all, it means that we do not have to go through a long period of time where we are unsuccessfully trying to reconcile these differences.

The important point here is that if you would like to achieve a hybrid identity and successfully go through the process of reconciling these differences, then you must make the conscious choice to to go through this painful period of time.

Step four: resolving dissonance

There is one easy option out: to simply deny one belief system, while giving complete support for the other.I recommend you not to take that path.

Rather, you will now have to go through the painful process of finding an integrative solution that allows both of worldviews and belief systems to have their place as part of your identity.

Some questions to ask yourself at this stage are:

  • What are the overlaps in the two different belief systems that I am exposed to?
  • What type of behaviour can I develop that is suitable for my current environment, while not denying my ‘old’ values?
  • Where have these two different belief systems developed from? What are their historical roots? What is the purpose behind them?
  • In what ways can each of these two different belief systems contribute to my success in this environment, and generally in life?

Step five: generalizing the behaviour that has worked in the past

Once you have developed a behaviour and adopted a belief system that has worked for you in any given situation, it is now time to gather feedback about its validity in the new cultural environment.

Find out what the other people in the situation thought about your behaviour and whether or not it was appropriate. Also, discuss with other people from this cultural environment, as well as other foreigners who are experienced within it, in order to learn more whether or not the behaviour you chose can be utilized in general situations.

If it was, then it is now time to make the behaviour part of your behavioural repertoire. In the beginning, you will have to consciously choose to act this particular way, until the point comes at which it becomes a habitual response for you. At that point, you have established a new ‘cultural script’ for yourself, which works for your individual situation.




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