Shouldn’t Society Be Culturally Flexible?

Being a bilingual and having been brought up in countries with cultures other than that of my parents, I’m always interested in research done on multilingualism and third culture kids. My attention was therefore drawn to this headline: Bilingual immigrants are healthier.

According to new research from sociologists at Rice University, which was published in the March issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior, bilingual immigrants are healthier than immigrants who speak only one language.

The researchers claim the health benefits are not impacted by factors such as socioeconomic status, family and social support, discrimination or stress. Rather, they believe it’s because of ‘cultural flexibility’. In other words, bilingual immigrants are able to integrate easily with the new surroundings while still maintaining their cultural ties. Professor Bridget Gorman, co-author of the research paper, stated that:

“Individuals who maintain native-language fluency while also learning English may be better equipped to retain relationships in their countries of origin and form new ones in the U.S. We believe this can help explain the positive relationship between bilingualism and self-rated health.”

Unfortunately, the question of why this is was left unanswered in this research.

I love the term ‘cultural flexibility’. A quick Google search comes up with the useful definition: the propensity to move across different cultural and social peer groups and environments.

I remember a professor at university once describing me as a chameleon. According to him I was able to adjust to any group of people I was placed with, regardless of nationality or social class, while still always remaining myself. For me, this is one of, if not the biggest compliments I have ever received. I can’t express how important I find it that we should be able to relate to people of other cultures and backgrounds.

Therefore, I think the outcome of this research is both important and relevant. If bilingual immigrants are healthier because they’re culturally flexible, then it’s important that governments give their newly arrived immigrants the chance to do so.

In the Netherlands, the trend at the moment seems to be to force people to become ‘integrated’. Integration is and has been for the last decade the trending topic. More and more people seem to believe that integration can only occur if cultural ties with the past are severed. This is visible in legislation (or better said, attempts at legislation) for restricting dual nationalities, prohibiting the wearing of hijabs for certain governmental employees and such.

But couldn’t this research show the futility in such attempts? Shouldn’t we strive for healthy immigrants? Healthier people are happier people. And isn’t having happy neighbours also good for our own happiness, health and security?


2 thoughts on “Shouldn’t Society Be Culturally Flexible?

  1. Great post. It makes perfect sense that immigrants who do what is legally required while similtaneously honouring their heritage will feel happier, more fulfilled, and at rest with the law. All of this contributes to a sense of well-being, which promotes the desire to maintain good health. After all, a good life filled with connections that stretch in many directions is worth preserving.

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