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Immigrant experience is a global resource Print E-mail

Tuesday, 03 January 2012 00:00

Written by Bob Lloyd

Every immigrant brings with them a wealth of experience and skills which can transform their lives in their new country.  Daily life can be hard for the immigrant learning language skills, seeking work, negotiating housing, getting used to different food, and  trying to make friends.  It can be all too easy to underestimate the enormous pool of resources they bring with them.

Their native language is a resource in itself, valuable to businesses seeking new markets, perhaps in need of translation or communication skills, but more than that, the bearer of a language comes with a cultural intelligence.  The immigrant knows their home culture in greater depth and detail than anyone else can hope to reach.  

They know the markets, the traditions, the values, the social priorities, government processes and institutions, as well as the more mundane details of how business is done. Their contacts in their home country already form a sophisticated network which can grow, and they may already have significant business experience.

An immigrant is also an emigrant; not only are they arriving in one culture, but they are leaving another.  They do not simply leave their old customs and values behind and adopt new ones, but uniquely blend them together to give themselves a richer perspective that others will lack.  They, more than anyone else, have a global perspective.  They see the relativity of cultural values, and this gives them a vantage point from which to observe other cultures, recognising both differences and similarities.

By placing themselves in a position of having to cope with the challenge of immigration, these remarkable people demonstrate their resilience in cultural, economic, and personal terms.  They face significant change which they manage and deal with, whether it is following unfamiliar administrative procedures, or learning to cook strange foods, recognising and learning new social behaviour patterns, or simply obtaining information.  They rapidly develop a resilience and a strength of character, a determination and a self-reliance, which goes deep within them.

They have dealt with loss, disappointment, fear and anxiety.  They have experienced loss of control and regained it.  They may have experienced discrimination and rose above it.  They have already been tested in very searching ways.

Living in more than one culture, they are uniquely capable of identifying the most significant common aspects. Common points as well as differences are more visible but so are the means for bridging them.  Differences in business practices often reflect deeper social values which may influence the approach taken.  Immigrants may already have direct experience of working in those markets, with those processes and technologies; this sort of intelligence often cannot be obtained other than through direct personal experience.

But the potential of immigrants is not simply what they already carry with them from their country of origin, valuable though all of that is.  Anyone who has subjected themselves to such an enormous change and negotiated it successfully, has great management potential.  The management of change is one of the most significant challenges of the business world; every immigrant has been both the subject and object of change.  They have significantly changed themselves.

There is also a wider cultural significance of the contribution of immigrants.  As Amin Maalouf points out, the strength of a culture is measured by the extent that it can absorb other influences and grow and a culture needs people who can relate its own values to those of other countries: in the modern global community where conflict is common, that is more important than ever.


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