Tag Archives: Immigrant

Thoughts on Immigration

C-Expo-04These thoughts are inspired by reading a 2 Feb 13 Economist article, The Ins and the Outs, about immigration in the Nordic countries. This article talks about the fact that most immigrants that have come to the Nordic states have come because of economic hardship and violence in their homelands. The insight to me was this is not the same as coming to a new land for better employment.

Giving this more thought, I now break immigration into three general categories. (with the caveat that immigration, like most other human activities, is actually more diverse than what I’m describing.)

o immigrating to get a better paying job
o immigrating to get away from poverty and violence
o immigrating as part of a nomad cycle

These three motivations lead to very different thinking on the part of the immigrants when they set up shop in their new community.

The immigrant who moves to get a new job is mentally prepared for a lot of change and ready to accept “when in Rome”-style changes to his or her lifestyle. This person’s attention is focused on doing something valuable for the community they have moved into and getting paid very tangibly for their efforts. Because they have made a lot of personal sacrifice in terms of culture shock, they are usually doing something responsible with their hard-earned wages, such as saving it to improve their lifestyle in the future, or sending it back to needy family members in the home country. If these people can come and go — immigration policies don’t require them to do a lot of hoop-jumping — they will.

The immigrant who moves because someone in a remote place thinks they are living a terrible life comes to the new land with a different mindset. (This is the kind of immigrant the article describes as common in the Nordic countries.) They are not thinking much about working, and they haven’t really given up on their homeland lifestyle, so they are not as accommodating of “When in Rome”-style changes to how they must do things. The result is these style of immigrants are much more likely to sustain “ghetto”-style living conditions in their new land, and stay outside the new land cultural mainstream.

The nomadic immigrant is even more likely to stay outside the cultural mainstream of the new land. The current typical example of this style is the Roma wandering around Europe. Neither they nor their ancestors had any great desire to settle down and get with the local program. What these people are interested in is learning how to deal with locals without becoming locals. This leads to goals and lifestyles that are quite different from either the working immigrants or the hardship immigrants.

In sum, dealing with immigration and trying to develop immigration policies needs to recognize that immigration comes in a lot of flavors, and the goals and tolerance levels for picking up local’s ways of doing things is different for each flavor.


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The Immigrant Experience and Education


Moving to a strange land and becoming useful there is one of life’s biggest routinely challenging experiences — routinely meaning that many people experience it. A person undertaking the “immigrant experience” (or “emigrant experience” from their point of view) is learning a lot that they wouldn’t learn at home. This is significant to human progress because it is one way to open the door for innovative thinking.

A related question is: Is there a way to package the lessons taught by the immigrant experience into a well understood education tool or technique that can make relevant learning a faster process? Something that can perhaps be applied without the necessity of engaging in the full immigrant experience?

That is the topic of this essay.

What makes the immigrant experience different from the stay-at-home experience?

Moving away from one’s familiar community to either learn, or be useful and make money, has been a long tradition of the human experience. One example is that Western European nobility routinely sent sons to live for a few years with other noble families in far away places. This was done for many reasons, such as strengthening alliances, but becoming worldly was a well-recognized part of the benefit package. In more modern times well-to-do Americans would routinely send both sons and daughters to boarding schools, far away colleges and exchange trips to Europe for the same reason.

Less well recognized as an education benefit, but in fact just as powerful, was emigrating for an employment opportunity. America has long been a magnet for young ambitious people from around the world seeking better paying work, and that is just one example. Wherever these people went they were acquiring worldly experience as well as a pay check.

The big benefit of moving away for a while is getting away from the “We always do things this way.”-experience of the home community. Moving away lets a person experience up close and personally that there are other right ways to do things. This leads to the benefit of believing there can be previously unthought of right ways of doing things — something we experience as progress.

Being a resident versus being a tourist

Being an immigrant is a different experience than being a tourist. A tourist comes for a short time and mostly notices what is strange and different about a place they visit. An immigrant stays for longer and gets involved in the system. As a result they learn why things are done differently. They discover the underlying logic that makes what looks strange to the tourist look quite practical to the local and the experienced immigrant.

An example from my own experience: I spent several years as an English teacher in Korea. As I went on day trips to the second-tier tourist attractions, those visited mostly by Koreans, I noticed that the convenience stores put their aluminum soft drink cans upside down on the shelves. “How strange!” I first thought after I noticed this was a real pattern, not a freak occurrence at one or two places. Because I was an immigrant, not a tourist, I later had a chance to ask one of my English classes about what I had noticed. “Oh, that’s to keep dust off the top.” I was told. And that made a lot of sense. In the US most such cans are stored in a cooler which keeps the dust away, but in countryside Korea a different solution was needed. In sum, it was strange, but it made sense. It was another “right way” to solve a problem.

Experiencing this kind of difference is the big educational benefit of the immigrant experience.

Can this benefit be taught without being an immigrant?

Can this education benefit be taught without having to go through the immigrant experience?

At this point it is tough to do. We still send our children off to college, and those colleges have elaborate Freshman Orientation Week programs because the new students are, in effect, immigrating into the college environment and it can be a tough adaptation. In our present era of even more prosperity and “helicopter parents”, it can be even tougher adaptation than it has been previously.

But we now have a lot more understanding of our world, and a lot more cyber resource to apply to the educating issue, and we will have even more in the near future. It is possible that, if we look for and discover what are the education essentials in the immigrant experience, we may be able to teach those without having to experience the whole package.

If we can do so, then we will make another big leap in educational productivity and we will keep humans relevant to the innovating process for longer than the would be so otherwise. (If… when… humans drop the innovating ball, increasingly sophisticated cyber will take their place.)


As we work to make education systems even more effective, we should take into account that the immigrant experience is also a powerful educating experience. We should look for ways of moving the benefits of immigrant experience into our more conventional educating systems.

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