Intercultural Relations in Asia: Migration and Work Effectiveness

Intercultural Relations in Asia

Author(s): Chan-Hoong Leong and John W. Berry (eds)

ISBN: 978-9812837868

Publisher: World Scientific Publishing

Year: 2010

Price: $108.00

Reviewed by Lisa C. Fischler, Associate Professor, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA, U.S.A.

When exploring the relationship between sojourners, work output or satisfaction, and policy issues, Intercultural Relations in Asia: Migration and Work Effectiveness emphasizes the incorporation of both contextual and environmental elements and non-essentialized conceptualizations of identity into analysis. Lacking a formal introduction or conclusion, this volume contains ten chapters grouped by four broad topics: intercultural relations and social integration, cultural competency in the workplace and the social environment, sociocultural effectiveness and emotional adaptation, and understanding Asian migration in Asia. These chapters cover a diverse range of issues concerning migration, work, and adaptation in a multitude of geographic settings, from New Zealand to Canada and Australia to China. One of this collection’s major contributions lies in its demonstration of the varied ways in which sociocultural competence, cross-cultural adaptation, and migration influence work effectiveness across the Asian region. The book’s innovative “use of methods of social science to both understand the phenomena of social change and to manage its consequences” (p. v) will appeal to academics, practitioners, and policymakers affiliated with Asia and Asian studies.

The section titled “Intercultural Relations and Social Integration” deals with integration and acculturation issues facing Asian immigrants in the geographical contexts of New Zealand and Canada. Drawing on different polls and research studies, chapter one demonstrates the discrepancies between attitudes and practices that make discrimination a reality for Asian immigrants in New Zealand. Asian “newcomers retain a strong ethnic identity but are also oriented toward the larger national society” (p. 19), yet often fail to perceive that recipient nationals in New Zealand share Asian immigrants’ preference for integration as opposed to assimilation. Chapter two offers similar perspectives on integration concerning Asian immigrants to and from New Zealand. Transnationalism’s view of migration is multi-stranded because Asian immigrants with permanent residence in New Zealand do not necessarily remain in their country of destination permanently. This circulation of talent impacts the degree to which immigrants strongly identify with New Zealand, thereby supporting ambiguities in social cohesion. Canada’s policy of multiculturalism, as discussed in chapter three, addresses these ambiguities by providing immigrants with the right to both maintain their heritage culture and engage fully in a  “culturally plural society as members of ethnocultural communities” (p. 44). As in chapter one, a strong predictor of negative results for immigrants’ adaptation to their new country of residence was the level of discrimination they perceived against themselves and their ethnocultural group. In short, a successful multicultural policy, one that aimed at positive psychological consequences for immigrants, would need to allow for the development of strong attachments toward both ethnic group and the national society.

The next section, “Cultural Competency in the Workplace and the Social Environment,” delineates similar issues only in a more focused arena: career and workplace. Unlike the empirically-driven chapters preceding it, chapter four develops a theoretical framework that combines economically-derived incongruence in values and norms with diversity in social beliefs and poor intercultural communication to better understand “work differences between countries” (p. 72). Greater comprehension of economic asymmetries between managers could be utilized to facilitate the efficiency and productivity of collaborative ventures between developed and developing states. Used as teaching tools—for example, in MBA courses—the chapter’s critical incidents and accompanying theoretical explanations for them assist in the more nuanced recognition of economic differences and the local work context. Chapter five takes on the views of both Taiwan firms and the Westerners they hire to work within them. The chapter’s findings challenge the conventional assumption that foreign workers must relate well to the host country’s cultural values to be happy. Many foreign workers in Taiwan found both positive and negative aspects to their jobs. In many instances, Western workers seem to be better treated than local workers in Taiwanese firms, with Western workers just leaving to find another job within Taiwan if dissatisfied and Taiwan managers seeing Westerners’ moving from one job to another as “characteristic of foreigners” (p. 122). The view of multiculturalism supported here is more one defined by conflict and inequality than the conventional one of harmony.

Within the same section, chapter six addresses a major national issue for Australia: how to attract, train, and retain migrant Asian talent. An earlier study by the chapter’s author showed variances in migrants’ ability to transfer their job skills, much as Western workers in Taiwan (chapter five) experienced both good and bad aspects to their jobs. In chapter six’s study, unlike in chapter five, migrants’ lack of familiarity with Australia’s culture was perceived as a barrier to the transfer of job skills. As in chapter two’s discussion of Canada’s multiculturalism policy, chapter six’s data supported the idea that migrants had greater well-being (and less stress) when they could retain pride in their cultural roots and develop solid social networks with nationals in the host country. Reduction of stress was the best predictor for decreasing instances of depression among migrants and international students. Consequently, the chapter recommends incorporating sociocultural competencies into immigrant employment training through the EXCELL (Excellence in Cultural Experiential Learning and Leadership) Program. Based on a number of studies, the results of which can be triangulated for verifiability, chapter seven, through a measure on the propensity for managers to offer favors in international business, offers ways to discern intercultural competency for Asia. Incorporating context specific aspects into analysis, the chapter initially assumed that greater openness to using bribes in a business context where they are accepted due to the degree to which the importance of relationships pervade social relations (such as guanxi in a Chinese context) would mean a more positive job attitude. Most of the studies supported this assumption, but also recognized “corruption as a socially constructed behavior that [was] influenced by the cultural definitions of righteousness” (p. 170). In effect, this section, unlike the first, presents a more mixed set of results concerns multiculturalism and intercultural competence for foreign workers in Asia and Asian immigrants in Western countries.

The third section, “Sociocultural Effectiveness and Emotional Adaptation,” focuses on the context-specific dynamics of the American community in India and of Chinese students in both China and the Netherlands. Chapter eight goes farther than the others in contextualizing the dual, but not necessarily congruent, workings of two communities: the American subculture within the dominant Indian culture. The major question posed is how much the inner dynamics of the subculture “interfere with adjustment to the host [Indian] environment” (p. 179). Employing an unconventional view by analyzing discourse and other forms of representation used in cross-cultural communication, the chapter draws on three different settings as a basis for its findings that ambiguity and conflict abound in the negotiation of Americans’ identities across geographies and cultural boundaries. Yet, many of the study’s respondents felt “successfully adjusted” as measured by personal, family, and time-place dependent factors. For Chinese students in China and in the Netherlands, chapter nine found that, by using MPQ (Multicultural Personality Questionnaire), females did better overseas than males, openmindedness was important for the degree of contact with international friends in some settings but not others, and that intercultural competencies mattered for emotional stability. The chapter demonstrated the successful utilization of MPQ in a Asian context. The material in the overall section reflects insights from the other sections: numerous context dependent variables, the contingent nature of cross-cultural competency, and the significant amount of ambiguities involved in the negotiation of individuals’ multilayered identities across different settings.

The final section, “Understanding Asian Migration in Asia,” contains only one chapter and it concerns rural-to-urban migration in China. Although it addresses a timely subject and is in synch with the rest of the volume’s theme, this chapter could have served as the book’s conclusion and offered a way to tie the diverse collection together. Instead, the chapter utilized four adult attachment styles to predict different acculturation attitudes of migrants. Results, as expected, ranged along a continuum from integration to marginalization. Employing ASQ (a type of questionnaire), the study drew respondents from four geographically different Chinese cities. Attachment styles turned out to be better predictors than demographics of acculturation attitudes. More broadly, the study’s findings suggest that the gradual abolition of the household registration system will not ameliorate the conflicts and tensions between rural and urban residents within China’s cities which have emerged from the “floating population” issue. Readers might have been guided more clearly to the important conclusions of the volume by introductory and concluding chapters. Greater referencing of significant findings across chapters would have better integrated the diverse approaches and methods used in this work. Nevertheless, in a globalizing world where migration tops the list of future transnational flows of concern to governments, the book’s chapters provide a timely reminder of the attention that needs to be paid to adaptation, acculturation, well-being, and satisfaction as talent travels across Asian boundaries in search of education and jobs.