On Becoming Bicultural: Language Competence, Acculturation and Cross-cultural Adjustment of Expatriates in China

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http://hdl.handle.net/10138/156084
Title: On Becoming Bicultural: Language Competence, Acculturation and Cross-cultural Adjustment of Expatriates in China
Author: Zhang, Ling Eleanor
Contributor: Svenska handelshögskolan, institutionen för företagsledning och organisation, företagsledning och organisation
Hanken School of Economics, Department of Management and Organisation, Management and Organisation
Belongs to series: Economics and Society – 290
ISSN: 0424-7256 (printed)
2242-699X (PDF)
ISBN: 978-952-232-285-2 (printed)
978-952-232-286-9 (PDF)
Abstract: “I wanted to be Chinese, once…I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. I won’t be rushing back either. I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream.” “China has been a familiar destination for multinational corporations over the last few decades, but surprisingly it still remains one of the most challenging destinations for expatriates”, says Ling Eleanor Zhang, who will defend her doctoral thesis on the subject. Yet, according to Zhang, underneath the seemingly high expatriation failure rate exists an ever more routine reality of contemporary working life. A growing number of sojourners, from expatriates sent by headquarters, to self-initiated expatriates, to expatriate entrepreneurs, are now, for various reasons, becoming caught up in China. They experience a dizzying array of processes collectively labelled cross-cultural adjustment, acculturation or biculturalism. Based on comprehensive fieldwork, Zhang seeks to uncover the working and living realities of expatriates in China from a language and culture perspective. In her doctoral thesis, Zhang also presents the multifaceted linguistic challenges faced by expatriates from both their own perspective, as well as that of the host country employees. She further provides a contextual account of expatriate host country language proficiency on cross-cultural adjustment, and inductively builds an analytical framework for analysing why and how host country language matters. “Nordic expatriates, who are currently working and living in China, have different types of cultural identity, i.e. marginal bicultural identity, cosmopolitan identity, transitional identity, and monocultural identity”, says Zhang. “Factors such as organisational context, expatriates’ attitudes towards the host country language, as well as their network orientations, have influenced expatriates’ identification with home, host and a third culture”, she continues. The findings also reveal a number of strategies expatriates adopt in order to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity, such as holding on to physical proof of groundedness, believing in individuality, realistically evaluating and accepting the marginality, and allowing for a certain degree of fluidity regarding one’s cultural identity.“Jag ville vara kines, en gång... Jag ville att Kina skulle bli den plats där jag gjorde karriär och levde mitt liv. Men jag kommer inte att skynda mig tillbaka. Jag har lämnat min kärlek bakom mig, vaknat upp från min dröm om Kina.” - Kina har varit ett välbekant mål för multinationella koncerner i några decennier, men förvånande nog utgör landet likväl en av de största utmaningarna för utsända medarbetare, konstaterar Ling Eleanor Zhang som disputerar i ämnet 22.8. Även om det kan te sig som om misslyckanden skulle vara vanliga bland personer som flyttar till Kina på grund av arbete visar Zhangs forskningsresultat att de blir alltmer förankrade i arbetslivets vardag. Ett ökande antal personer som skickats till Kina av huvudkontoret eller etablerat sig på eget initiativ, entreprenörer samt personer som av olika orsaker temporärt bor i Kina väljer att stanna kvar i landet. Dessa personer är föremål för påverkan av ett flertal förvirrande processer under den gemensamma beteckningen kulturell anpassning, assimilation eller bikulturalism. Utifrån en omfattande fältundersökning avser Zhang att exponera utländska personers arbets- och levnadsvillkor i Kina i ett språkligt och kulturellt perspektiv. I sin doktorsavhandling framför Zhang även de mångfasetterade kulturella utmaningar som utländska medarbetare ställs inför såväl utifrån sitt eget perspektiv som utifrån det perspektiv genom vilket de betraktas av värdlandets personal. Hon framlägger dessutom en kontextuell redovisning av den fördel man har av goda kunskaper i värdlandets språk då det gäller interkulturell anpassning. Zhang bygger induktivt upp en analytisk struktur för en analys av varför och på vilket sätt värdlandets språk är betydelsefullt. - Utsända från de nordiska länderna som arbetar och bor i Kina har olika kulturidentiteter, till exempel en marginell bikulturell identitet, en kosmopolitisk identitet, en övergångsidentitet och en monokulturell identitet, säger Zhang. Faktorer såsom organisatorisk kontext, de utsändas inställning till värdlandets språk, liksom även inriktningen av deras nätverk, har påverkat det sätt på vilket de utsända identifierar sig med hemlandet, värdlandet och en tredje kultur, tillägger hon. Forskningsresultaten avslöjar likaså ett antal strategier som de utsända antar i syfte att komma tillrätta med osäkerhet och tvetydighet, som till exempel att hålla fast vid fysiska bevis på förankring, tron på individualitetens betydelse, en realistisk utvärdering och ett godtagande av den marginella tillvaron samt räkna med en viss grad av flexibilitet i fråga om sin egen kulturella identitet.“China is a bit like malaria, you know, you get it to your blood, and it doesn’t get erased.” Life in China has so much promise, they resolved to stay just for a little bit longer. Yet year after year, this foreign shore has never been short of turbulent storms revealing to them that they have deemed themselves as only temporary residents. They have long departed from their home land, the destination of their journey is yet uncertain – China or yet another foreign land? Thus, between these countries, they might not belong anywhere, or only in that little space in-between, where they could lay down their discontented bones. *** As a familiar destination for multinational corporations over the last few decades, surprisingly China still remains as one of the most challenging destinations for expatriates. Yet underneath the seemingly high expatriation failure rate exists an ever more routine reality of contemporary working life: from expatriates sent by headquarters, to self-initiated expatriates, to expatriate entrepreneurs, a growing number of sojourners are now, for various reasons, becoming caught up in China. They experience a dizzying array of processes collectively labelled as cross-cultural adjustment, acculturation or biculturalism. Based on comprehensive fieldwork comprising one year’s observation and 78 interviews with expatriates and their host country colleagues in 18 different organisations, I seek to uncover the working and living realities of expatriates in China from a language and culture perspective. I develop two distinct insights in this book. Firstly, I emphasise the importance of empirical context in theorising biculturalism by demonstrating how the specific contexts of the home and host country influence expatriates’ acculturation process. Secondly, I define biculturalism in a contextualised and dynamic manner, and articulate why this is different from existing frameworks, and how this might be applied in future studies. Having immersed myself deeply in these questions, the framework that I developed in analysing individuals as a collectivity in relation to different cultural reference points is profoundly grounded in the phenomenon of expatriation itself. By analysing what characterises expatriates’ journeys in becoming bicultural, I present a holistic understanding of expatriates’ responses and coping mechanisms to their changing environment. I also reveal the various dilemmas expatriates face in terms of their relations with host country employees, home country nationals and third country national expatriates. As an integral part of culture, language plays an indispensable role in expatriates’ internalisation of new cultural practices, and their work and life in general in the host country. I thus explore the multifaceted linguistic challenges faced by expatriates from both their own perspective, as well as that of the host country employees. I further provide a contextual account of expatriate host country language proficiency on cross-cultural adjustment, and inductively build an analytical framework for analysing why and how host country language matters.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/156084
Date: 2015-08-11
Subject: expatriate
biculturalism
language
adjustment
acculturation
China


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