A recent study published in The Journal of International Education Research found that the country of one’s passport culture may affect a person’s ability to modify their behaviour when coming into contact with other cultures. Entitled, Intercultural Sensitivity, Gender, And Nationality Of Third Culture Kids Attending An International School, the study took a sample of 139 Third Culture Kids attending the same high school in a South-East Asian City. The passport culture of the participants varied, ranging from South Korea to Brazil, with the results showing that South Korean students experienced more difficulty in assimilating to other cultures.
The study used what is called an Intercultural Sensitivity Inventory (ICSI) to measure degrees of individualism, collectivism, flexibility and open-mindedness, against the set variables of gender and nationality. Participating Third Culture Kids were asked to answer a series of multiple choice questions, with each possible answer reflecting a tendency towards one of the four categories.
The theoretical basis of this study came from Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, which proposed that a person’s behaviour in certain social settings, were affected by four distinct cultural patterns shaped by their passport culture, Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance. The first pattern (Power Distance) is related to hierarchies within certain societies. For example, an East Asian society would have a higher Power Distance than say a European society. The second pattern – as the name suggests – shows how individuals emphasize their own needs over the needs of the group. This pattern reveals if you come from an individualist nation (e.g. America) or a collectivist nation (e.g. Japan). The third pattern measures the different cultures in degrees of masculinity and femininity, wherein a masculine culture is defined as focused on earnings, advancement and assertiveness, and feminine cultures as relationship oriented. An example of a masculine culture would in this case be America and an example of a feminine one would be Sweden. The final pattern, Uncertainty Avoidance is related to the level of risk that is accepted by the culture. A high level of Uncertainty Avoidance would be South Korea and a low level of Uncertainty Avoidance would be America.
With the result of the study being that people from South Korea experienced more difficulty in assimilating to other cultures, the follow-up questions became; what is it about South Koreans that make it more difficult for them to modify their behaviour. The study suggested that the country’s high degree of Uncertainty Avoidance was to blame for this. South Korea is a country with strong social patterns and strict behavioural codes that may be hard to break after the individual has transitioned into a Third Culture Kid. I can understand why, as the parents of the child in question would still be immersed in the child’s passport culture and would be bound by the strict behavioural codes associated with it. The input that the child would receive in the home environment would, in turn, lead him or her to seek out similar individuals in the school and community, which would soften the contrast between the passport culture and the host culture, making it harder for them to adjust when they need to.
Morales, A. 2017. Intercultural Sensitivity, Gender, And Nationality Of Third Culture Kids Attending An International High School. Journal of International Education Research. June 2017.