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Immigrant Workers and Meanings of Work

Communicating Life and Career Transitions

Suchitra Shenoy-Packer and Elena Gabor

This first-of-its-kind book uniquely captures the meanings of work expressed by immigrants. Their stories – from work histories to life transitions and professional journeys – are conscientiously and rigorously mapped by the academic insights of communication scholars, many of whom are immigrants themselves.
Immigrant workers’ narratives of work and its nuances in an adopted country offer many hitherto muted, invisible, and/or purposely silenced perspectives. A variety of new and familiar terms – concepts such as career inheritance, aphorisms, cultural adaptation, acculturation, and cultural distance – and culture-specific terms such as ganas and consejos are discussed alongside the inherent struggles of identity construction across borders.
While the contributors represent diversity in co-cultural affiliations, national origin, and immigration experiences encountered both personally and professionally, the stories of immigrants represent an even larger number of countries and cultures.
This volume compels the academic community to acknowledge immigrants as workers whose voices matter and whose sense and processes of meaning-making is nuanced, complex, and multi-dimensional. Immigrant workers’ voices can contribute significantly to the rich growth of research in organizational communication, meanings of work, career studies, cross-cultural management, psychology of work, and work and society.
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Chapter Eleven: From Longing to Work to Loving Retirement: Changing Meanings of Work of a Latvian American in Sweden


← 142 | 143 →CHAPTER ELEVEN

From Longing to Work to Loving Retirement: Changing Meanings of Work of a Latvian American in Sweden


Immigration research often emphasizes negative outcomes and pathologizes immigration by focusing on stress, loss, and uncertainty (Berger, 2004; Chambers, 2008). Research centering on immigration and work also tends to focus on challenges, such as the difficulty of finding work using one’s previous training and experience. These challenges certainly merit attention and concern. This case study, however, considers empowering aspects of the immigrant experience of work. When scholars study the empowering aspects of work for immigrants, they usually emphasize the economic gain it can provide. Scholars have also argued that work is often more meaningful for immigrants because of the strong sense of purpose associated with improving their family’s situation (Rosso, Dekas & Wrzesniewski, 2010). Financial and quality-of-life improvements are important potential outcomes, but this case study demonstrates that immigration can also empower workers by enabling purposeful reflection about meanings of work (MOW). As Lair, Shenoy, McClellan, and McGuire (2008) point out, “The meanings we attach to work as well as our definitions of what we consider meaningful work reflect the norms, expectations, and priorities of the particular society we live in” (p. 176). Immigrants must negotiate the MOW that dominate the societies that they inhabit in light of the MOW of their cultures of origin. As a result, immigrants have multiple perspectives to draw...

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