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Juggling a pilot, juggling identities. A pilot project on cross-cultural youth's identity work.

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

(Photo credit: Freepik)

Written by Audhild Steinnes Heum, Researcher at the Centre for Intercultural Communication, VID Specialized University, Stavanger. Member of the MIGREL research group.

Identity is about self-understanding, belonging and who you are in relation to others. Being able to own and define one’s own identity is important. Childhood and adolescence characterized by influences and belonging to several cultures have their challenges in this aspect.

A person who has lived in – or meaningfully interacted with – two or more cultural environments for å significant part of childhood and adolescence, will fit into the definition of a Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK). CCK’s are often looking for opportunities to reflect on their identity, or what may feel like multiple identities, and have the opportunity to express them in order to create coherence and a whole between all the parts that together constitute their experiences. In addition to issues related to breakup, sadness, identity confusion and the feeling of being different no matter where you are, youth with a cross-cultural upgrowing are likely to experience expectation dilemmas with different demands from parents, friends, and society in general. A pressure to opt-out of important aspects of oneself is common. It is well established that recognition is an important counterweight to the experiences and feelings mentioned here.

Since spring 2020, a team from the Center for Intercultural Communication (SIK) consisting of Anne Brit Hatleskog, Øystein Lund Johannessen, Oleksandr Ryndyk and myself (members of the research group MIGREL) has been engaged in a procurement for the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, focusing on cross-cultural youth in school and leisure. The assignment, which is a pilot project, is titled "Course pilot for young people with a multicultural upgrowing". The focus is on multicultural perspectives to strengthen CCK’s in their identity work, promote cohesion to the wider community, and prevent exclusionary opposites. Furthermore, the course pilot aims to support schools in their work on new curricula. The piloting is carried out in collaboration with the Flexid Foundation.

Course module for young people with a cross-cultural background

In the pilot, we are providing cross-cultural youth with a course programme addressing key topics relevant to their experiences. Our partner in the pilot, the Flexid Foundation, has worked for many years on developing Flexid[1]. This is a course concept aiming at giving CCK’s an opportunity to establish a critical and constructive awareness of their cross-cultural upgrowing experience, hence assisting the participants to become confident in their multiple identities and not feel that they have to choose either – or. Flexid has been implemented in the pilot. The course has a resource-focus, thus strengthening the participant’s opportunities to experience themselves as part of their communities. Flexid consists of a total of 12 topics, where each topic is building on each other so that an awareness of one's own identity work, experiences and opportunities gradually arises.

Focusing on significant others

In the development of the pilot, we have taken into consideration that CCK’s identity work, self-understanding, perceived cross-pressure and perceived belonging to a community, always take place in a context, and therefore in interaction with important others in the current context. We have therefore seen it as important to include the youth’s significant others to equip them to support the youth in their identity work and experienced belonging to the larger community.

In this context, the significant others consist of the entire school community, with classmates, teachers, and the parents of the cross-cultural youth. The same principle also applies in the leisure arena, where the pilot has chosen to include leisure leaders, other young people in the leisure facility and minority parents. The existing Flexid course has given direction to three other course modules that have been developed for these groups. These modules consist of two sessions for each of these target groups. In all modules, emphasis is being placed on an approach that promotes open sharing of experiences, while at the same time adding knowledge and resources to the different groups of participants.

Piloting the course package

As a consequence of the corona pandemic, the progression plan laid out for the pilot has been revised quite a few times. The project is now scheduled to be completed in spring 2022. As of early December 2021, we are about to finish implementing a total of 18-course sessions in each of the schools and in the leisure facility, meaning that when multiplying this number by 4, it is safe to say that the project team has been juggling many balls this autumn. Adding to this, the entire piloting is also being documented, using both quantitative and qualitative methods; surveys, interviews and observation.

Notwithstanding the many project activities within a fairly short time horizon, it is exciting to have been given an opportunity to work on something as fundamental as identity and how to strengthen a sense of belonging and community for young citizens in key arenas in our society. Creating spaces for CCK’s to express and work on their multiple identities, and also building the competence of their significant others to support them on this journey, will hopefully contribute positively to making their job of juggling and negotiating identities more meaningful, constructive and less demanding.

[1] Flexid stands for flexible identity and is subtitled "my opportunities with multiple cultures". To learn more visit

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