Malleable Mindset and Cultural Contact: A Multifactorial Approach to the International Experience
People living and working abroad come into intimate contact with differences in culture, language, and social practice. They interact with these differences in several ways. The initial response to contact with "Otherness" is often one of alienation: "I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made" (A.E. Housman). Yet many people go on to find the experience educational and rewarding, demonstrating that attitudes change as connections with the new culture are achieved. What are the determinants of such outcomes? What factors of the individual or situation facilitate accommodation and success in an international setting? Based on a study of 100+ individuals who have lived and worked abroad, this paper presents a multi-factorial model of the inputs and outcomes of international work experiences. We identify four clusters of factors that influence the performance and subjective experience of individuals in international settings. First, individuals bring their own attitudes and experiences to the encounter. One key factor here is global mindset – a cognitive construct of beliefs and attitudes towards "Otherness". Second are cultural factors arising from practices and attitudes prevalent in the home and destination cultures. Third are factors relating to the social identity that individuals construct in interaction with the community. Finally, there are situational factors specific to the individual experience, such as job type or family circumstances. The multi-factorial model provides a tool for understanding acculturation and for the predictive modeling of successful international experiences, showing how the various factors affect key determinants of success, such as performance and satisfaction with the experience. Of central importance are attitudes and prior experiences with other cultures — the elements of global mindset. Mindsets are malleable as individuals adapt to the intercultural experience over time; hence the process is dynamic: attitudes affect the interpretation of experience, but are also changed by experience.
Keywords: Crosscultural Contact, Global Mindset, Identity, Attitudes, International Work
Dr Gregory R. Guy
Professor, Linguistics Department, New York University
Karen V. Beaman
Managing Director, Jeitosa International