What happens when people move to a different culture?

14 December, 2012

When people move to a different culture do they stick to the cultural norms they are used to, or do they try to learn as much as possible about the new culture, and does this affect how well they adapt to living in a new country?

Past research has shown that migrants are relatively inclined to maintain their cultural heritage and identity. At the same time, they want to engage with local people and the wider society.

However, no study has previously examined whether these ‘inclinations’ are in fact distinct motivations: the motivation to maintain one’s cultural heritage and the motivation to explore the host culture.

CACR Researcher, Claudia Recker, has been researching whether the motivation of people to maintain the culture of their home country and the motivation to explore their new country's culture influences their behaviour.

This would in turn influence their psychological wellbeing, satisfaction with life, and their ability to ‘fit in’ and ‘learn the rules’ of the new country.

The specific behaviour Claudia investigated was whether migrants socialise with peers from their own culture or with New Zealanders.

Main findings

Two hundred and eighty migrants from 53 different countries completed Claudia's online questionnaire. She found that there are indeed links between the motivations, behaviour and adaptation outcomes.

Broadly speaking, theresearch suggests that migrants who are motivated to maintain their heritage culture tend to socialise with people from their own culture, and this in turn predicts how satisfied they are with their lives and how well they feel emotionally.

However, the motivation to explore the culture of New Zealand does not predict that migrants socialise with New Zealanders.

Instead it directly predicts the ability of migrants to fit into New Zealand society and to learn the cultural rules .

Having contact with New Zealanders, the ability to fit in and knowledge of the rules of the New Zealand society influence wellbeing and life satisfaction.


One of the main conclusions of the research is that both the motivation of people to maintain the own culture and their motivation to explore the culture of their new country are linked to positive adaptation outcomes for migrants in New Zealand.

These findings contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms that influence the wellbeing and cultural learning of migrants in an unfamiliar cultural environment.