10 Years of Blog Archive

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Expats May Never Completely Integrate but They Can Go Local

What does it mean “to integrate into a culture?”  How does someone who has been brought up in one culture, later, move to a totally different culture and integrate oneself into that culture? How does that work?

The word usage of “integrate” has been used mistakenly by many of us bloggers, journalists and writers when it comes to foreigners moving to and living in other countries abroad.  Foreigners do not actually integrate into the culture, it is more like -- respect the culture. There are many examples we could bring out into the open here, but we think you get the general idea.

We’ve used the term a few times ourselves but after thinking about it and realizing that true integration would be almost impossible for foreigners to other countries to do, we’ve decided on a more apt word usage for foreigners moving to and living in Ecuador, which would be simply to “go local”.

The term to “go local” does not imply that one must change their way of life, or for that matter, intermingle another’s cultural beliefs and customs into their own either, like the term "integrate" implies. 

To be clear: on the surface, we can say that we have integrated into another culture but most people cannot and will not undermine what’s in their heart, mind and soul, beliefs—convictions, to integrate themselves into another culture.

Note: Some customs and traditions are just not acceptable for some people, such as eating certain traditional foods, or celebrating “pagan holidays”, or believing in “false notions”, etc, etc…

It Takes Two to Tango

The definition of integrate means to “incorporate” or “combine together” and so knowing this, then it would seem that an expat can only integrate into a culture if the other side is willing to have them.  It would be impossible to combine, mix, or join together people who are indifferent to each other. Such as oil and water.

They can pretend to be integrated but that would be “for show”.   In other words, it would be almost impossible for a people from a totally different background to incorporate themselves completely into the other and the other into them without undermining one’s value system. See the dictionary definitions below.

Here’s an easier way to look at what complete integration means. When you mix two colors together like red and blue you get a totally new color of purple. It’s really easy to mix colors together because they are inanimate objects; inanimate objects don’t have beliefs, principles and ethics like immigrants to other countries do. They are not going to reject being mixed in with each other and made into a NEW Culture.  Reality has shown us that people will reject different cultures and some will leave the place they emigrated to because they are not even willing to tolerate differences, let alone “integrate” …just saying…some call it “culture shock”.

People can only become what they decide and choose for themselves to be, not what others tell them they have to be or should be.  -- Quote from Frank and Angie

Definition of Integrate from the Cambridge Dictionary
1. to ​mix with and ​join ​society or a ​group of ​people, often ​changing to ​suit ​their way of ​life, ​habits, and ​customs

2. To combine two or more things in order to become more effective

Definition of Integrate from Noah Webster Dictionary
1. I N'TEGRATE, verb transitive [Latin integro.] To renew; to restore; to perfect; to make a thing entire

Definition of Integrate from the Merriam Webster
1. To form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole :unite

Again, reality shows many foreigners that have moved abroad find it difficult to integrate into the culture, just like so many immigrants to North American have found it difficult to integrate into the culture there.

Why is that? Well, that brings us back to the beginning of this article.  It would be impossible to combine, mix, or join together people who are indifferent to each other.  North Americans have to do their part by accepting the immigrants in the first place.  One culture of people cannot completely integrate into the culture of another people unless they both WANT to be integrated with the other to make a new culture. 

We Should Always Be Respectful of Other Cultures

I think when we are the foreigner to another country, we should always be respectful and tolerant of the ways of any new culture we move to, but that certainly does not mean “to integrate” through acceptance and become part of something we do not believe in or is against our convictions.

When North Americans move abroad to South America the best way to be respectful is to go local as much as humanly possible. I don’t believe that going local changes our beliefs, principles and ethics, or changes their beliefs either, because if it did, THEN it would be trying to “integrate” two different types of “ways of living” into “one way of life” resulting in integration...usually the way it happens is that we only partially integrate, and that’s ok.

5 Ways Expats Can Go Local

1.  Learn the local language…at least try.

2. Be respectful of the new country and people. Don't try and change the culture or its people.

3. Live in the same neighborhoods and types of housing as the locals.

4. Pay the same rent prices as the locals pay, and say “No thank you” when prices are not the local normal rates.

Would we be trying to change a custom or tradition of South America by saying “NO” to being charged more than the locals? Absolutely NOT…it means we’re trying to stop a nasty habit that uses other races for profit!! It is a form of segregation which shows that true integration will not happen as long as the locals continue to segregate us from their price levels.

5. Blend in with their way of life as much as is comfortable for you to do so without undermining your own principles, beliefs, ethics and even your health. You’re blending in out of respect, not integrating and changing your value system and beliefs…that would be undesirable to do, as we have said.

Note: Some customs and traditions are just not acceptable for some people, such as eating certain traditional foods, or celebrating “pagan holidays”, or believing in “false notions”, etc, etc…although they need to be tolerated if you live in a country where these customs and traditions are practiced; we cannot and should not try and change a culture to be what we think it should be. This is why it is good to understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance.

If a person can just go and move abroad and become just like the culture in every way of life then perhaps they are able to integrate themselves, however, the other side must also allow your traditions and customs into their way of living as well for complete integration to take place. Which is not necessarily a good goal anyway.  Integration is NEVER one-sided; it takes two coming together to make a whole or a complete union. 

Until we write again…

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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!


  1. Excellent and well-written article.
    Did you write this one, Angie?

    I thank both of you, nevertheless.
    It is helpful.

  2. We write our articles together. Thank you.


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