Understanding cultural transition: A quick review of the terminology

I speak about the cultural transition from time to time. However, this topic, like any other specialized topic, has its own terminology. Of course, cultural transition is a multifaceted concept encompassing how individuals and communities navigate the complex landscapes of multiculturalism and globalization. This guide will explore fundamental terms and concepts that shed light on this dynamic process, illustrating each with practical examples.

Enculturation: Cultural learning and internalization

Definition: Enculturation is the process through which individuals learn and adopt the values, customs, and norms of their own culture, usually from childhood. Consequently, the process begins from the birthdate and naturally continues through interacting with one’s environment.
Example: Growing up in a rural Canadian community, a child learns the importance of community support and local traditions through family gatherings and community events.
Relation to Other Concepts: While acculturation deals with adapting to a new culture, enculturation focuses on ingraining one’s own culture, serving as the foundational layer of an individual’s cultural identity.

Acculturation: Cultural change and adaptation

Definition: Acculturation is the overall process of cultural change that occurs when different cultures meet.
Example: The blending of African, European, and Indigenous cultures in Brazil, leading to unique culinary, musical, and artistic traditions.
Relation to Other Concepts: Acculturation encompasses assimilation, integration, separation, and marginalization, offering a broader view of cultural adaptation.

Integration: Blending cultures together

Definition: Integration refers to the process where individuals maintain their original culture while adopting elements of a new culture.
Example: An immigrant in Canada maintains traditional customs from their homeland while also celebrating Canadian holidays and traditions.
Relation to Other Concepts: Integration often leads to hybridity, where elements from different cultures combine together to create a new cultural expression. Canadian policies encourage integration for newcomers.

Assimilation: Adopting a new culture

Definition: Assimilation is the process of adapting to and adopting the cultural norms of the dominant culture.
Example: A child of immigrants growing up in the US might fully embrace American culture, language, and values, gradually losing connections to their parents’ culture.
Relation to Other Concepts: Assimilation is the opposite of separation, where the individual actively avoids the original culture. However, it shows an overlap with integration.

Separation: Retaining the original culture

Definition: Separation involves keeping one’s original culture while avoiding the new culture.
Example: A religious community living apart from the broader society to maintain its unique cultural and religious practices. Of course, these communities may still interact with the rest of the society for their basic needs.
Relation to Other Concepts: Separation contrasts with integration and assimilation, where engagement with the new culture is encouraged.

Marginalization: Isolation from all cultures

Definition: Marginalization occurs when individuals reject both their original and new cultures.
Example: A refugee feels alienated from their homeland and the new country, struggling to find a cultural identity.
Relation to Other Concepts: Marginalization is a risk when rejection of cultures occurs without successful integration or assimilation.

Cultural Competence: Effective cross-cultural interaction

Definition: Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people across cultures.
Example: A business leader successfully negotiates deals in various countries by understanding and respecting different cultural norms and practices. However, a culturally competent person refrains from stereotypes.
Relation to Other Concepts: Cultural competence can be seen as a skill developed through understanding and practicing integration, assimilation, and avoiding ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, and hybridity: Complex perspectives


  • Ethnocentrism: Belief in one’s own cultural superiority.
  • Cultural Relativism: Understanding cultures on their own terms.
  • Hybridity: Blending elements from different cultures.


  • Ethnocentrism: A historical example of ethnocentrism can be found in the concept of “Manifest Destiny” in the 19th-century United States. This ideology held that Americans, particularly those of European descent, were destined to expand across the North American continent because their culture and civilization were deemed superior. Moreover, this ethnocentric belief justified the displacement and often violent removal of Indigenous peoples and the annexation of territories like Texas and the American Southwest. While not as extreme as ideologies that led to genocide, “Manifest Destiny” nevertheless illustrates how ethnocentrism can influence policy and result in the subjugation of other groups.
  • Cultural Relativism: Appreciating different family structures without imposing one’s own cultural standards.
  • Hybridity: Fusion cuisine that combines culinary traditions from different cultures.

Relation to Other Concepts: These concepts offer nuanced ways to understand cultural interactions and transitions, emphasizing the complexity and diversity of cultural experiences.

Navigating cultural transition

Cultural transition is a rich and intricate process that requires understanding, empathy, and adaptability. Individuals and communities continually shape and reshape their cultural identities through integration, assimilation, separation, or other complex interactions. Recognizing and respecting these dynamics is essential in our increasingly interconnected world. The insights gained from these concepts help pave the way for a more inclusive and culturally competent society. If you want me to talk to your organization about cultural matters and immigration, please complete the following form.

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.