Intercultural transitions

Intercultural transitions

Intercultural transitions and migrant-host relationships in Germany: An example of activist scholarship

Versha Anderson

Activist scholarship is applied, engaged, and transformative with attention on the participants as co-researchers and partners working collaboratively with the researcher to investigate, question, uncover and/or explore an issue/idea together. Activist scholarship also attempts to seriously attend to social issues and bring solutions and ideas back to the community to help address these issues. Many times these solutions are crafted collectively from the lived experiences of those co-researchers/ participants as well as the academic/scholarly integration of language and perspectives that may further underscore the urgency of this type of scholarship. CMM theory and its concomitant communication perspective are well suited as an umbrella framework for such activist scholarship and acted as one of my guiding frameworks for my PhD research.

The overarching question for my PhD research was how could an activist approach be used to understand the intercultural transitions of refugees and migrant-host relationships in their country of refuge. In this instance the country of refuge was Germany. In 2015, Germany was at the center of one of the largest displacements in history as upwards of a million refugees, many from Syria, fled to Germany.
I was fortunate enough to spend three months living in Germany and interacting with Germans and refugees to hear their stories of positive intercultural interaction. Through the integration of Acculturation Theory (Berry, 1980), Cross-Cultural Adaptation Theory (Y.Y. Kim, 1980), and Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory (Pearce & Cronen, 1980) I conducted a qualitative research project where I engaged in collaborative interviews with 44 individuals representing both German citizens (25) and refugees (19).

I was concerned to identify and develop the stories of positive intercultural interactions with one another, while sidestepping the tales of woe. It was through this positive orientation that I was able to identify and work with possibility: Possibility for change that addressed the urgent needs of a community that have not yet been met in full and, in identifying those possibilities, transferring and communicating those needs to other audiences beyond the community as well as perhaps reframing how we approach the community itself.

This attention to the positive, led to stories that my collaborators and I co-crafted affirming the importance of intercultural competency, social support, and empathy as core elements of positive interaction. In turn this appreciation provided a platform to create future initiatives grounded in these elements as others engage in intercultural transitions and develop migrant-host relationships. Furthermore, this research showed the need to address both host and migrant experiences during intercultural transitions being sure not to privilege either group when seeking positive paths to facilitate interaction.
The current study’s focus on stories of positive intercultural interaction, underscore the reality that members of migrant and host groups are able to cultivate positive intercultural interactions. This serves to not only confirm the findings of previous literature as to what constitutes a positive intercultural interaction, but it also sheds light on intercultural contexts and situations where members of host and migrant groups appear to be engaging in these positive behaviors almost innately. Therefore, acculturation and cross-cultural adaption theories as well as our understandings of empathy, social support, and intercultural competency, may be advanced by approaching contexts where positive intercultural communication and interaction are occurring to reveal how these behaviors are developed, practiced, and sustained by members of diverse cultural groups. This further demonstrates the significant contribution of the present study to understanding intercultural transitions and migrant-host relationships by offering concrete examples of successful and positive intercultural interactions.

From a practical standpoint, we can take steps to cultivate empathy and improve social support. In regard to intercultural competency, it is important to highlight the need for both migrant and host cultures to develop intercultural competency; therefore, training, development, and education opportunities should be provided for both hosts and migrants. Overall, the primary practical implications of this study suggest that preparing individuals prior to migrant-host interactions through cultivating empathy, modeling supportive behavior and communication, and developing intercultural competency is of great value. By preparing individuals prior to interacting with new cultures, individuals will be able to progress faster to cultural understanding (Brislin & Kim, 2003). The present study affirms the importance of this preparation for both host and migrant groups; regardless of one’s expertise at interacting in their own culture (Furnham & Bochner, 1982), knowledge of proper communicative behaviors with members of different cultures facilitates positive interaction (Mizera, Tulviste, Konstabel, & Lausa, 2013).

In reality any nation has the potential, either expectedly or unexpectedly, to serve as a host nation, to diverse members of their own cultural group (i.e. displaced persons in the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina or more recently Hurricane Harvey) or members of migrant groups (i.e. Syrian refugees in Germany). Therefore, the importance of cultivating empathy, having attitudes of open-mindedness, and building cultural awareness of both one’s own culture and other cultures prior to and during these inevitable cultural shifts and disruptions can enhance the eventual supportive behaviors of host nations in positive ways to facilitate intercultural interactions that increase the likelihood of successful intercultural transitions for migrant groups.

Conversely, members of migrant groups, specifically forced migrants, displaced persons, and refugees, cannot readily predict the unfortunate upheaval of their lives and the need to relocate. Therefore, the emphasis for their immediate interactions is captured by their appreciation of social support as the basis for positive intercultural interactions. Thus, enhancing refugees’ ability to interact with host nations in appropriate and effective ways is likely to facilitate intercultural interactions that increase the likelihood of successful intercultural transitions while helping them develop positive relationships with host nations.

All in all, this project has the potential to provide a new framework for and perspective to think about how nations experiencing an increased influx of refugees, migrants, immigrants, and even tourists can begin to approach multiculturalism with confidence, acceptance, and a deeper understanding of how to work with diverse groups to effect sustained positive interactions.

This research formed the basis of my Ph.D. work at Arizona State University, awarded in May of 2017.
For more information on this research please contact me at

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