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You Can Be a Citizen of the World

Expats and culture
Expats who are open to the world around them in their adopted countries usually become multicultural, and the same can happen in terms of political perspectives. This is significant because it opens up the discussion that culture can affect politics, which has significant consequences.

Dr.Jasenko Ljubica, research fellow at the Russian Higher School of Economics in Russia joins the programme.

The first theme of discussion revolves around how strongly expats in Russia can be affected by Russian culture. Dr. Ljubica says: "It depends on both the expats and the culture. Research shows that an expat's adaptability to a local culture depends on a lot of things — personality, experience gained before the expat came to Russia or any other country, it depends what his or her job is. If you are an IT specialist working in a closed room with your hardware and software, that is one thing. It is a different thing if you are in academic research, in education and you have to talk to people all the time. …You can end up living in another country and remain untouched by the thinking in that country, but this rarely ends up well. In order to be successful in another country you have to learn, you have to learn what the culture is, how does this culture function, you cannot expect culture to adapt to you, it is the other way around."

On Russian culture, Dr. Ljubica says that Russian culture is definitely there, something that can be tangibly experienced, but points out that there is a big confusion with academic terms of different types of culture — strong, weak, open and so on. "But you can say that Russian culture is a strong culture", Dr. Ljubica says. "Russians are pretty direct people, when you are in Russia you are forced to understand what Russian culture is about pretty fast, and personally I appreciate it. I have lived in other cultures such as when I lived in Mexico, and people do not always say what they expect of you. Russians do, you are very clear about what you are supposed to do and how you are supposed to do it. Not all expats are like this of course."

Dr. Ljubica talks about ‘uncertainty reduction theory', which concerns the process of acclimatizing to a foreign culture, and becoming more used to it. Such a process can clearly be seen when expats engage in marital union with local citizens. "It is a natural process in which, whether or not you like it, you learn the culture and expats tend to see that they [locals] are not that bad, and if you see them as being something good you see them as being something better. It is part of human nature to talk to people that are like you, that talk like you or have the same jobs as you, hence you start building relationships, friendships, romantic relationships with local citizens. Sometimes you cease being an expat and become an immigrant…"

One would think that people who ‘go native' cut themselves off from their own country, but research shows that this is not true. Dr. Ljubica says: "These people do not simply cut themselves off; they don't forget who they are and where they have come from. There is no radical switch, no negation of what they were, but there is what is called an ‘identity shift'. They start identifying more with the local community that is not their community and less with the community or culture that they were members of before. So they experience an emotional attachment to their local communities but there is more of an attachment to their own cultures."

This then could prove that multiculturalism exists, and the idea that cultures must always clash is perhaps wrong. Dr. Ljubica says: "People tend to be indoctrinated with politics and TV and media, so if you leave people on their own to decide what it is that they identify with and what they don't identify with, you will see that multiculturalism is peaceful, normal, it does exist. You can be a citizen of the world; you can be a member of several cultures. You can feel and think like that without experiencing dissonance and without this clash between yourself and anybody else. However, this collusion, this intrusion, intervention of politics mostly, messes things up a great deal. So, then you have a distortion of information, you have a filtering of information and then trouble. You can see that in what is happening in the world today."

This programme needs to be listened to in full if you are interested in this theme. The final subject of conversation concerns whether or not expatriates' political views are influenced by local cultures. Dr. Ljubica says: "Politics are often put into the same basket as politics. I am from Croatia for example, which is a politically neutral country. So, I have a possibility to look at it from a neutral standpoint. More and more, culture and politics are one and the same because the majority of people identify with the politics of their country…"

The programme ends with a declaration of hope. Hope, because multiculturalism shows that people can live in different cultures at the same time. As such, they will experience and understand the reasons for different political views, and this is not a bad thing.

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