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What makes a person multicultural?

Who is multicultural?

Although we’ve been using the term ‘multicultural’ to describe culturally diverse teams, it’s also possible for the term ‘multicultural’ to describe individuals.

What makes someone multicultural? Is it knowing different cultures? Is it a feeling of belonging to more than one culture? Is it about your values and beliefs being influenced by more than one culture?

Being multicultural involves all these things. Specifically, to be multicultural to any degree you need to know, identify with, and internalise more than one culture.

For example, someone who is multicultural in Peruvian and Argentinian cultures has at least some of each of these aspects:

  • Knowledge: being familiar with the deep aspects of both Peruvian and Argentinian cultures (eg beliefs and assumptions, not just surface-level aspects).
  • Identification: defining yourself in terms of being both Peruvian and Argentinian (or a hybrid of these cultures).
  • Internalisation: being deeply influenced by both Peruvian and Argentinian cultures, in terms of your own values, beliefs and assumptions.

The more you have each of these aspects, the more multicultural you are.

Multicultural individuals can include migrants, refugees and their descendants. They can also include people who have become multicultural through a prolonged, immersive experience in another culture (eg expatriates, international students, couples in intercultural relationships).

What does this mean for teams?

It’s becoming more and more common for teams to include multicultural individuals. Being multicultural typically means possessing certain skills and qualities, which can benefit multicultural teams.

In the next steps, we will take you through some of the latest research on multicultural individuals and help you to discover what they can bring to multicultural teams.

Your task

How multicultural are you based on the three aspects of knowledge, identification and internalisation? Explain why, with reference to the three criteria of knowledge, identification and internalisation.

Have you worked with multicultural individuals in teams before?

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This article is from the free online course:

Leading Culturally Diverse Teams in the Workplace

Deakin University

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