It is very interesting to observe group behaviour. One of the things you probably have noticed yourself is that groups of people from the same country tend to form. This happens even in very multicultural countries like the USA or Australia, where you can meet people from all over the world if you want to. Still, the Japanese do stuff with the Japanese, the Germans with the Germans, the Iranians with the Iranians and so on. But why is that happening? Its easy to say: “because its easy”. But is that all there is to the answer?
Well, yes and no. Living in a foreign country causes a high level of stress for an individual, because he or she is taken out of her usual environment. In some cases it can break people, to the point where there is no other choice but to return home. When someone arrives in a new country, the community of people from their home can work as a safety net to avoid that from happening. At the same time, they act as a support group for finding accomodation, work, making connections and so on and so forth. Amd that is a good thing. I remember this myself: in Indonesia, I went to the weekly gatherings of the German society, mainly because it provided many opportunities for me.
The danger is not to use this safety-net, the danger is to get caught in it.
Most of us move to another country with the best of intentions: to adapt to it as much as we possibly can. Then we get the first disturbing experiences with people from different cultural backgrounds. Some of us react to it by running away, by avoiding contact with them alltogether, and to rely on those people from our own ethnic community instead. It can be an easy way out, an easy way to stay in comfort-zone. But I know you see it already: this is not the solution to your problems. On the long run, statistics show that people who are well integrated into their host society are much happier than those who stay within their own small bubble. On the long run, we do not want this “us vs. them” mentality to arise. On the long run we want to live together in peace. And that’s why we need to escape that little safety net, that we value so much.
So how can we use our ethnic community in an appropriate way?
Here’s a rule of thumb: spending time in the community that shares your cultural background is positive as long as it is supporting your integration into the host country. Here are some ways in which they can do that. By…
- teaching you how things get done in the new environment
- supporting you in finding jobs, housing etc.
- helping you overcome the stress of the new environment
- serving as culture brokers who inform you about the culture and introduce you to local people
Think about it, are you sticking with your friends from home for a good reason, or simply because it is more comfortable to you?
Be honest to yourself, and also think about the community you are spending time with. How well do they speak the local language? Do they have a lot of local friends, and how close are these friendships? Do they talk positively or negatively about the local people? How well informed are they about the local way of doing things? Do you feel that they are behaving appropriately when they interact with local people? If they give you the feeling that they are indifferent, or even hostile towards the host culture you are living in, the more you should think about leaving that little safety-net of yours. Or you may be trapped in it forever.