What is acculturation?

By Damián Goldvarg

On September 16, 2022, I presented a workshop on Acculturation at the Conference organized by ACTO (Association of Coaching Training Organizations). I talked to a colleague about my presentation, and when she told me that she had never heard of Acculturation before, then I decided to share some details in this month’s blog post.

Acculturation occurs when a minority group adopts the social or cultural norms of the dominant culture. As an immigrant from Argentina to the United States, I became interested in how cultures influence one another. It involves borrowing traits from one group and applying them to others—a process that can be seen not only between countries but also within organizations, teams, or social groups as well.  When immigrants assimilate into a new culture, they may be torn between holding onto the values and beliefs of their homeland or embracing those of the country in which they now live. This tension often stems from many factors.

In my experience (I moved to California in 1990), work ethics was an area of tension. I was used to staying late, meeting with friends, or going out, and it was accepted that I might be tired the next day after sleeping fewer hours. I remember being shocked that my new friends in the US did not want to go out or stay until late because they wanted to have enough sleep to be in the best possible shape the following day.

Berry (1992) identifies four different approaches to Acculturation:

  • Assimilation occurs when an individual adopts the cultural norms of a dominant or host culture over his/her original culture. For example, in my case, I used to be late to meetings, and I was not the only one. Now, I am very punctual in particular when I am teaching classes in person or online.
  • Separation occurs when a group of people rejects the dominant culture in favor of preserving their own. I know friends who live in Miami, where there is a large Argentinean community; they work and socialize with each other but don’t mix with local Americans. They still speak their language among themselves and have preserved their culture of origin. I have seen that also in Los Angeles with the Iranian community, I have a friend who shared with me how his family has a circle of friends with which they work, socialize, and live like they were in their country of origin.
  • Integration is a process in which individuals embrace the cultural norms of their host culture while maintaining elements from their own. This may be the healthiest approach. Most immigrants may experience all these approaches in different areas of their lives.
  • Marginalization can occur when individuals see themselves as belonging to neither their culture of origin nor the dominant host culture.

Berry´s model may help us to understand our experiences when entering new teams, organizations, or societies.  I invite you to consider what have been your experiences in your life and how you may use this model to support colleagues in their lives.