Far away from home and (not) lonely: Relational mobility in migrants’ heritage culture as a potential protection from loneliness

Luzia C. Heu*, Martijn van Zomeren, Nina Hansen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Loneliness is a major health risk with particular relevance for migrants, who are faced with the challenge of establishing social networks to avoid social isolation after migration. We suggest that forming new relationships may be hampered or facilitated by characteristics of migrants’ heritage culture (i.e., the culture that migrants were socialized in), specifically the level of heritage relational mobility (the amount of opportunities to form new relationships and individual choice regarding whom to relate to in the heritage culture). Individuals with higher (versus lower) heritage relational mobility may be able to more easily establish social networks after migration, because of being more experienced with forming new social relationships. As such, we hypothesized that they might be less susceptible to loneliness after migrating – at least in a host culture that is high in relational mobility. In two cross-sectional survey studies with samples from two of the largest groups of student migrants in the city of Groningen (Study 1: n = 118 German, n = 97 Chinese students; Study 2: n = 119 German, n = 92 Chinese students) in the Netherlands (i.e., a context with high relational mobility), higher heritage relational mobility was indeed related to lower loneliness. Having grown up in a cultural environment that offers opportunities to individually establish new social relationships may hence protect migrants from quite different heritage cultures from loneliness, at least if the host culture also offers such opportunities. We discuss alternative explanations, as well as theoretical and practical implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-150
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
Publication statusPublished - 20-Jun-2020


  • Loneliness
  • Relational mobility
  • Migrants
  • Culture
  • International students

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