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The Effects of Individualism/Collectivism on Spanish, Japanese, and United Kingdom Culture

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Individualism and collectivism, also known as individual orientation and group orientation, are two of the most fundamental concepts that assist in the process of understanding a culture’s social life. These values produce variations in family structures, how aspects of education are structured, the way businesses handle group work, and how people conduct social relations. Collectivistic cultures place an emphasis on community, collaboration, harmony, the public good, and maintain face. Contrastingly, individualistic cultures emphasize personal rights, privacy, freedom, innovation, and self-expression.

The United Kingdom has one of the highest scores on the Individualism Versus Collectivism scale (IDV), outscored only by Australia and the United States of America. This means that U.K. culture is highly individualistic. People in the United Kingdom expect to take care of only themselves and their immediate family, which leads them to be less invested in their society or community. In individualistic cultures, the uniqueness of each individual is celebrated, and a person’s rights and privacy are much more important than group considerations.

Japan and Spain have similar moderate scores on the IDV, showing their appreciation for the values of both individualism and collectivism. Rather than focusing solely on the desires, goals, and success of the individual, people in cultures that emphasize the values of both individualism and collectivism have strong cooperation skills, enjoy group activities, and share many of their beliefs with their community. For example, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the community as a whole became more conservative in their consumption of unnecessary entertainment and items in order to show a sense of selflessness and solidarity with the victims. This idea of collective emotions is not as present in individualistic cultures.

If your study abroad program could potentially lead to a job opportunity, the individual or group-orientation of the country in which you’re studying may have an effect on your original choice. In individualistic cultures like the U.K., it is expected that people will change jobs throughout their life in the workforce in order to advance their career. However, in Japan, where collectivism is more highly valued, people are expected to stay with the same company for life. Changing jobs would be considered a disloyalty to both the company and the other employees.

The concept of individualism vs. fundamentalism plays a large role in determining many of the acceptable social behaviors of different cultures. Knowing your country’s cultural orientation, either individual or group, before beginning your study abroad program can provide you with a basis of how the culture’s social relations may differ from your own. Without this knowledge, traveling from the individualistic culture of the United States to a country who emphasizes collectivistic values may present challenges in the process of adapting to the new culture.

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