Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Across the Stream: An Ethnography of Biculturating

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Across the Stream: An Ethnography of Biculturating

Article excerpt


This study explores cross-cultural adaptation process from an ethnographic perspective. The data come from my own experience of adapting to a new culture and place, combined with the observations from numerous other individuals, international students and emigrants going through the same process. The biculturating patterns emerged through using Wolcott's ethnographic techniques on data gathered primarily through observations, interviewing numerous international students and immigrants, and my own experience of moving across cultures over a decade in Northern Colorado. After summarizing the previous research, explaining the method and the culture, the paper describes biculturating patterns as acculturation, biculturating, and becoming bicultural. The interpretation and conclusion of the paper is that biculturation could not be studied in model. Biculturation is the outcome from the combination of the background of the settler, the motives for crossing cultures, and the host culture environment, where the motivation is the driving wheel of the process.

Key words: Cross-cultural adaptation; Identity; Bicultural; Intercultural


People move across cultures every year for a variety of reasons and at various times. Cross-cultural adaptation is essential in their journey. Cross-cultural adaptation research has increased significantly over the decades and still needs to move forward. Most of the research undertaken is seen in light of a dominant host culture talking about the newcomers or non-dominant culture (Kim, 2007, p.28). The tendency in cross-cultural study so far is to look at the process of adaptation in models and categorize it.

Qualitative research, in general, and ethnographic approaches, specifically, offers a better picture for understanding, describing, and discovering the process of becoming bicultural in its whole complexity from the participant's perspective. Culture is an amorphous term, not something "lying about" (Wolcott, 1987, p.41), but something researchers attribute to a group when looking for patterns of their social world (Creswell, 2007). Along the same line, so is acculturation and biculturating. They are amorphous, not solid. Communicating culture is as complex as our life experiences, and an ethnographic approach allows us to study the process without the need for categorizing or "boxing" the culture. Biculturation cannot be modeled; it can only be told as a story of a life changing journey.

The purpose of this ethnographic study is to describe the process of cross-cultural adaptation, up to becoming bicultural, for international students and immigrants in the Northern Colorado area from 1998-2009. The data has been gathered primarily through longitudinal participant's observations, my own experience of adapting to a new culture and place, interviews, and additional documents and materials concerning international students as sojourners in search of academic and cultural growth and immigrants as settlers in search of better lives.

After exploring the current literature on adaptation models, theoretical lens and methods used, the cultural description, the biculturating patterns that emerged from the ethnographic approach, describes an authentic portrait of becoming bicultural. This study nourishes the existing theory by highlighting the outcome of the adaptation process as a combination of the settler's background and the motive for crossing cultures with the host culture and climate.


Kim, Y. Y. (2001) incorporates the existing conceptions of cross-cultural adaptation into three groups: macro and micro level, long and short term, and adaptation as problem and adaptation as leaming/growth. Macro-level perspectives view acculturation as a group phenomenon that was typical among anthropological studies more than fifty years ago. Micro-level perspectives focus on the experience of individuals crossing cultures. …

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