Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2008 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 12, Issue 4
To cite, use print source rather than this on-line version which may not reflect print copy format
requirements or text lay-out and pagination.
This article should not be reprinted for inclusion in any publication for sale without author's explicit permission.
Anyone may view,
reproduce or store copy of this article for personal, non-commercial use as allowed by the "Fair Use" limitations (sections 107 and 108)
of the U.S. Copyright law. For any other use and for reprints, contact article's author who may impose usage fee.. See also Academic
Exchange Quarterly electronic version copyright clearance CURRENT VERSION COPYRIGHT © MMVIII AUTHOR & ACADEMIC EXCHANGE QUARTERLY
Acculturation Strategies: Avenues for All?
Victoria A. Malko, Ed.D.,
Dr. Malko is on the Linguistics Department
Acculturation strategies among Russian-speaking university
students in the western
to “those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different
cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in
the original cultural patterns of either or both groups” (Redfield, Linton,
& Herskovits, 1936: 149). Although a group may undergo profound changes,
individuals may or may not participate in the community changes to the same
Berry et al. (1989) found the integration strategy the
most successful, marginalization the least, whereas assimilation and separation
strategies were intermediate. The interpretation was given that integration
involves having social support from the dominant and ethnic communities. However,
findings in a study of Chinese university students in
What previous studies fail to account for is the fact that the terms for adapting are created by the dominant culture, and the “avenues to adaptation” are not available to all (Moon, 1998: 328). The choice of acculturation strategies depends on the context. Therefore, in addition to surveys, through ethnographic interviews and participant observations, I examined the varying strategies Russian-speaking university students use in the process of acculturation. In addition to group-level factors, such individual-level factors as age, gender, education, cultural distance (language and religion), migration motivation and expectations were also explored.
The data were collected in the fall semester of 2004 using
the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) through generating
theories from the data and enriching the data by grounding them in a
theoretical perspective. Three sources of data were employed: demographic
surveys, participant-observations, and interviews with students, instructors,
and pastors. The purpose of the surveys was to gather information about the
participants’ background characteristics, native and English language
proficiency, as well as private and public domains of language use. The purpose
of participant-observations was to collect descriptions of teacher-student
interactions in university and college settings as well as Bible classes at the
Qualitative data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed according to a three-part model of data reduction, data display, and conclusion drawing and verification (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Application of the analysis model involved an inductive, iterative process of data reduction involving coding narrative data, identifying data categories and themes, displaying data in the form of visual networks to illustrate relationships among variables, and drawing conclusions by revising the original data, writing and inviting peer review of preliminary findings, and finalizing the conclusions.
Participants in this study were Russian-speaking students in
a large public university, a two-year college, and a private Christian
university in the western
Sixteen case studies were selected for analysis.
Students’ age ranged from 18 to 45 years. Two-thirds of them had been in the
One of the main indicators of acculturation attitudes
is language use in life domains. This was measured by asking participants how
much English or native language they used in the family or socializing with
friends in class and outside classroom, while talking to teachers, neighbors,
boss, and co-workers. Home language use was predominantly Russian when speaking
to a spouse, parents, or elders. Only two students indicated using English with
their parents nearly ten percent of the time. Language use among siblings
varied. The longer students stayed in the
Another indicator of acculturation attitudes is
language use for cultural consumption. This was determined by asking how much
English or native language students used while reading, listening to the radio
or CDs, watching television or videos, corresponding with relatives and
friends, and engaging in religious activities. English language was used almost
a hundred percent of the time while listening to the radio and watching
television or videos. The major reason is a lack of Russian language radio and
television channels in the region. Although participants in this study were
college and university students who read textbooks almost 100 percent of the
time, only half of them indicated reading books and novels for pleasure.
Overall, reading ranked fourth in the frequency of use, after watching TV,
shopping, and listening to the radio. These students spent two-thirds of their
time reading in English and one-third in Russian. The use of the Russian
language was prevalent in four areas: religious activities (the highest),
playing sports (mostly football among men), and corresponding with relatives
and friends (half of the students did not engage in this activity). Students
who stayed in the
With respect to the domains of language use, English was spoken in school and at work whereas Russian was used with parents and elders, to socialize with close friends, and to read the Bible. Although two languages appear to be in a diglossic relationship, the situation is very unstable. As the students spent more time in an English-speaking environment, their English became better, while their Russian became peppered with English words. Students in a focus group interview explained that maintaining two languages was a problem. With respect to the cultural activities, in five out of the eight, English was favored over Russian, showing a trend toward assimilation.
Within the Russian-speaking community the approaches
to acculturation varied. Numerous factors in the society of origin influence
acculturation: political context, economic situation, and demographic
conditions. With the exception of three graduate students who came to the
United States to advance their education and professional careers, most of the
Russian-speaking students came as refugees when Mikhail Gorbachev opened “a
window of opportunity” for them in the early 1990s. Baptist refugees from
Several factors in the society of settlement further
influence the choice of the acculturation strategies: the value attached to
cultural diversity (multicultural ideology); the level of prejudice
(ethnocentrism, racism, and discrimination); attitudes among cultural groups;
and degree of identification with the larger society by all groups (
Such factors as context (home, school, or workplace), length of residence, generation status, and social support networks determine the preference for one acculturation strategy over others. The analysis of the domains of language use revealed that acculturation strategies varied in private domain and public domain. In private domain (home), Russian-speaking students pursued the strategy of separation, whereas in public domain (school and workplace), integration was favored.
In addition to group-level factors, such individual-level factors as age, gender, education, cultural distance (language and religion), migration motivation and expectations are important sources of variation in adaptation. Individuals as well as groups explore various strategies during the course of development, settling on the one more satisfying than the others.
Age is known to influence the acculturation process.
Most of the participants in this study arrived in the
Gender is a factor that accounts for variation during acculturation. New roles available to women in the American society brought them into conflict with their heritage culture. Women’s success in attaining higher levels of education and language proficiency opened more opportunities for employment for them than for their men, who had to stay home to take care of the family, thus reversing the traditional gender roles. Women pursued the strategy of integration, whereas men clung to traditional cultural values, which is characteristic of the separation strategy.
Graduate international students who had more and better
education pursued the strategy of integration, building on the cognitive and
linguistic skills they developed through long years of schooling and
transferring skills to new contexts of learning. Refugee students came with incomplete
secondary or some vocational education, and many of them were deemed unprepared
by their instructors for a university-level rigorous education. Some of them
were retained in ESL classes or had to retake failed pre-requisite courses.
They had limited access to education in the former
Language proficiency is one of the key variables associated with positive adaptation to the new culture and society. Graduate international students who had high proficiency in their native language and in English pursued the strategy of integration. They tried to preserve their linguistic identity and sought daily interactions with students from other cultures, especially native speakers of English. Those Baptist refugees who had low proficiency in their first language and in English oscillated between separation and assimilation. Considering Russian speakers as peers an impediment to the acquisition of English, they either tried to change the strategy or continued to rely on the support from their ethnic group in all matters except school and work.
In this study, language used for religious purposes was
Russian, which is an indication of the strategy toward separation. Several
students interviewed for this study pointed out that they keep up their native
language by reading the Bible. However, the
Migration motivation has been found to contribute to
the outcome of acculturation. Motivation can be voluntary (in the case of
immigrants) or involuntary (in the case of refugees). In addition, those who
have migrated settle either permanently (immigrants) or temporarily (sojourners
such as international students). Whether refugees or sojourners, the
Russian-speaking students interviewed for this study chose to come to the
Acculturation is a process of adaptation of individuals
socialized in one culture to new contexts that result from immigration. It is a
dynamic process that constantly changes under the influence of multiple
factors. The Russian-speaking students’ acculturation strategies varied. In
private domain, the strategy of separation was evident, whereas in public
domain, integration was favored. Some of the recently arrived Russian-speaking
immigrants pursued the strategy of separation, holding on to their original
culture and native language while avoiding interaction with other cultural
groups mostly due to the language barrier. Other newcomers, mostly graduate international
students, fluent in English, pursued the strategy of integration. They did not
perceive a threat to their identity, as they became more proficient in English,
and sought daily interaction and help from their English-speaking instructors
and peers from other cultural groups. Unlike sojourners, Russian-speaking
refugees came to the
Despite rigorous selection of the research techniques, the
design of the study has several limitations. The sample size is small;
therefore, the findings should be viewed with caution. Participants of this
study were Russian-speaking students from three post-secondary institutions in
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the
American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages
Conference held in
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1994). Russian refugee families: Accommodating aspirations through education. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 25(2), 137-155.
Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A.L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies
for qualitative research.
Hinkel, E. (2000). Soviet immigrants in the
Makhovskaya, O., &
Miles, M.B., & Huberman,
A.M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis
Moon, D.G. (1998). Performed identities: “Passing” as
an inter/cultural discourse. In J.N.
Martin, T.K. Nakayama, & L.A. Flores,
Noels, K.A., Pon, G., & Clément, R. (1996). Language, identity, and adjustment: The role of linguistic self-confidence in the acculturation process. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 15(3), 246-264.
Phinney, J.S. (1990). Ethnic identity in adolescents and adults: A review of research.
Psychological Bulletin, 108, 499-514.
Redfield, R., Linton, R., & Herskovits, M.J. (1936). Memorandum for the study of acculturation. American Anthropologist, 38(1), 149-152.
Smith, I.M. (2000). Culture clash in the English as a
second language classroom: Russian students in
Spradley, J.P. (1979). The