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Chinese Students’ Group-Level Acculturation Features in America

According to Berry’s acculturation framework (Berry 1997), group-level acculturation means that migrant (sojourner) groups usually change substantially as a result of living with two sets of cultural influences. These macro-level changes include economic changes, social changes, culture changes, language shifts, religious conversions, and value systems. This section discusses Chinese students’ acculturation features in terms of group-level factors such as culture, social life, and employment and immigration issues.

Culture and Ethnic Relations in America

Berry (1997) argued that the acculturation process is influenced by both societal and individual variables. The discriminating features of the receiving society such as ethnic composition, extent of cultural pluralism, and salient attitudes toward ethnic and cultural out-groups are particularly important. Thus, it is necessary to provide a brief picture about the culture relations in America before discussing Chinese students’ group-level acculturation features.

America has characteristics of a “world.” America is an ideal laboratory of modern cultural relations “given its lack of a centralizing cultural tradition, its acceptance of humanistic ideas such as freedom and democracy, its obsession with technology, and nationalism based on pride in these ideas and on economic power” (Wang 1992, p. 24). The culture and ethnic relations in a modern society characterized by rapid acculturation and group identity disintegration hold true for America.

On one hand, assimilation in America is increasingly an ideal rather than a reality. Structural assimilation, the entrance of immigrants into primary group relations with the dominant people, for example, has rarely occurred in American society (Gordon 1964). The transition from “melting pot ideals” to the acceptance of cultural pluralism, “mixed salad ideals,” reflects changing American cultural relations as a result of modernization in American society in the past two centuries (Archdeacon 1984)

On the other hand, American society has become increasingly homogeneous in terms of behavior and lifestyle. America excels in its power of acculturation. Forces of acculturation, represented by technology and a highly interdependent industrial lifestyle, are omnipresent and overwhelming; few can escape from them (Wang 1992).

Taken together, cultural interaction in America changes the behavior and lifestyle, but not the ethnic identity or ideology of different ethnic groups or social classes. Not surprisingly, acculturation in America is largely an individual effort; it is perceived as a choice made by the individual rather than a change forced by the society (Handlin 1951). The individual takes the risks and reaps the benefits of the change.

 
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