«The ongoing wars around the world have led to an ever increasing exodus of refugee populations for resettlement in developed countries, including the ...»
Because of the transitory nature of refugee adolescents‟ lives and the disruption of their key normal developmental process, these adolescents have a difficult task of developing important relationships in their lives. They inevitably face the task of beginning fresh peer relationships in a new cultural environment and upholding their relationships with members of their culture of origin that forms their identity.
In addition, as new arrivals in a different environment, they have to deal with two competing worlds (i.e., their past and present) and the urgent need to negotiate “the process of acculturation:
that is, how and whether to make attitudinal and behavioral changes as a result of exposure to the host culture” (Kovacev & Shute, 2004, p. 260).
Researchers (e.g., Birman, Trickett, & Vinokurov, 2002; Kovacev & Shute, 2004) consistently have found a relationship between acculturation and psychosocial adjustment of refugee and immigrant populations. Acculturation has been defined as a process of change in behaviors, values, and attitudes as a result of contact from two cultures (Berry, 1997). In his conceptualization of acculturation, Berry (1997) reported that people are
generally faced with two important decisions in their choices of acculturation strategies:
(1) the value accorded to an individual‟s cultural identity that needs to be retained and (2) the level of involvement with the majority or mainstream culture.
According to Berry (1997), the responses to these key aspects lead an individual to choose among four acculturation strategies: integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization. Assimilation is the choice not to engage and participate in activities of the original culture and be fully immersed in the dominant or host culture. Conversely,
mainstream/dominant cultural activities or values. Integration is the option when an individual chooses to value the original culture and at the same time participate in the mainstream culture. Marginalization is the outcome when an individual rejects both original and mainstream cultures. These strategies have been found to impact an individual‟s acculturation and adjustment differently.
In previous studies of acculturation and adjustment of both immigrants and refugees, researchers (e.g., Birman & Taylor-Ritzler, 2007; Kovacev & Shute, 2004; MottiStefanidi, Pavlopoulos, Obradovic, & Masten, 2008; Neto, 2002; Zagefka & Brown,
2002) have found that integration predicted the most positive psychosocial adjustment outcomes due to a balance between an interest in the host majority culture and yet still distinguishing oneself from the majority (i.e., maintaining the original culture) in a positive way. In contrast, researchers (e.g., Kovacev & Shute, 2004; Pisarenko, 2006;
Sam, 2000, Sam, 1996) have documented that marginalization, with its negative orientation to both original and mainstream cultures, leads to the worst adjustment and adaptation outcomes among immigrant and refugee adolescents. From these findings, it appears the more integrated (i.e., accepting of both original and mainstream cultures) individuals are, the more well adjusted they are in the new environment. On the contrary, marginalization seems to contribute to some degree of maladjustment for refugees.
Assimilation and separation strategies have provided mixed results (e.g., Kovacev & Shute, 2004). Separation has been documented to provide short-term adjustment for an individual, but with potential long-term adjustment problems due to failure to participate
adjustment outcomes among adolescents from a different cultural background (Kovacev & Shute, 2004). Researchers to date have not included refugee adolescent refugees. An investigation of acculturation strategies and the relationship to psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees will be informative.
In designing a study of Yugoslavian adolescent refugees resettled in Australia, Kovacev and Shute (2004) proposed a model based in their review of previous research on psychosocial adjustment of refugees as well as consideration of adolescents‟ developmental tasks (e.g., identity development and peer relationships). Although their complete conceptual model included pre-migration experiences, family characteristics, and other variables, they focused on three key variables identified in the literature: social support, acculturation attitudes, and psychosocial adjustment. Thus, in their study, Kovacev and Shute examined adolescent refugees‟ psychosocial adjustment in relation to acculturation and social support, with an emphasis on the role of peer relationships in the country of resettlement. They operationalized psychosocial adjustment in terms of global self-worth (e.g., self-esteem, self-concept) and peer social acceptance, defined by the degree of popularity and likeability of the adolescent among peers. Social support was operationalized as positive regard from others (Harter, 1985), including parents and peers.
Kovacev and Shute (2004) proposed that different factors would influence the adolescents‟ psychosocial adjustment and social support. They hypothesized that acculturation would be a predictor of psychosocial adjustment, but believed that the
choice of acculturation strategy (i.e., integration, separation, assimilation, and marginalization). In the model, they also hypothesized relationships among acculturation, social support, and psychosocial adjustment. Kovacev and Shute (2004) assumed that acculturation attitudes would influence the amount of social support refugee adolescents were able to receive and /or perceive from parents and peers and this in turn was expected to influence their adjustment. In other words, social support was hypothesized to have a mediating effect on the relationships between acculturation attitudes and psychosocial
Kovacev and Shute (2004) found support for their model. Adolescents who preferred the integration acculturation strategy reported higher psychosocial adjustment. Also, adolescents who exhibited negative attitudes towards both cultures (e.g., marginalization) reported lower psychosocial adjustment. Additionally, they found that acculturation attitudes were related to peer support but were not related to parental support. On the effect of acculturation attitudes on psychosocial adjustment, the results indicated an indirect effect mediated by social support.
The model designed by Kovacev and Shute (2004) appears to provide a promising avenue for investigating African adolescent refugees in resettlement. Its emphasis on social support (i.e., parents and peers) is similar to the significance attached to social support networks within the African cultural context. These networks are central in the overall well-being of members, particularly during stressful and difficult times such as settling in a new environment as refugees (Davies, 2008; Stoll & Johnson, 2007).
Additionally, in the model, there is less emphasis on distress and psychological problems of adolescent refugees and its impact on psychosocial adjustment. Rather, the authors emphasized the social support systems as critical aspects in the well-being of refugees in the resettlement. These aspects of social support are yet to be examined with African adolescent refugees.
Furthermore, there seems to be a consensus among researchers in recent studies and reviews of refugee mental health (e.g., Kovacev & Shute, 2004; Ryan, Dooley, & Benson, 2008; Watters, 2001) that post-migrational experiences may be better predictors
Therefore, it would be fitting that more research and studies be focused on an investigation of contributing factors to the adjustment and well-being of adolescent refugees in resettlement, including African adolescent refugees.
Researchers (e.g., Amone P‟O-lak, 2007; Halcon et al., 2004) have observed that, despite their difficult traumatic experiences, hardships, and deprivations, many adolescent refugees are resilient and exhibit strengths that enable them to survive and thrive during and beyond wars. Similarly, although past trauma often has been associated with psychological problems in adolescent refugees, equally important is the need to recognize that some adolescents have not experienced these problems. In some studies focused on coping and psychosocial adjustment of adolescent refugees resettled in the United States (e.g., Davies, 2008; Halcon et al., 2004), researchers have observed the importance of external protective factors such as family cohesion, social support, and the presence of caring relationships in the family and at school. Such research about African adolescent refugees, however, is scarce. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine determinants of psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees in the United States.
Furthermore, the model proposed by Kovacev and Shute (2004) seems to be a good foundation for investigating psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees. In this study, some factors that influence psychosocial adjustment were investigated. Similar
self-worth and peer social acceptance. The role of social support from parents and peers also was examined. Given the documentation of African‟s collectivistic cultural background and the important role of parental support (e.g., Davies, 2008; Stoll & Johnson, 2007), it was hypothesized that parental social support would be a stronger influence than peer social support, which is in contrast to Kovacev and Shute‟s (2004) results for Yugoslavian adolescent refugees. If this model is found to be informative, this will be a step forward in investigating African adolescent refugees‟ adjustment and eventual well-being during resettlement.
This study investigated psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees during resettlement in the United States. To understand the influencing factors of their adjustment, the relationships among acculturation, psychosocial adjustment, and social support were investigated. Different social support networks provide emotional support for adolescents who may be undergoing difficult and stressful life transitions. Because it has been found to impact psychosocial adjustment of adolescent refugees positively, social support from parents and peers/or close friends and their impact on African
This study examined acculturation, psychosocial adjustment, and social support (from peers/close friends and parents) of African adolescent refugees in the U.S. Specifically,
this study addressed the following research questions:
1. What are the relationships among acculturation, social support, and psychosocial adjustment for African adolescent refugees in the United States?
2. Among the four acculturation attitudes, which one is the best predictor of psychosocial adjustment among African adolescent refugees?
3. Do acculturation attitudes influence the amount of social support that adolescent refugees have which in turn influence psychosocial adjustment?
4. Are there significant mean differences in psychosocial adjustment by gender and duration of stay in the U.S. among African adolescent refugees?
With increasing numbers of refugees being resettled in the United States and, even more so, an increasing population of refugee children and adolescents in the United States public schools (Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007), the need for service providers to be informed about culturally appropriate helping interventions that are specifically tailored
of social support in psychosocial adjustment of African adolescent refugees may be helpful to practicing community and school counselors by expanding their knowledge base of the adolescents‟ needs, leading to interventions being provided in the resettlement.
Additionally, knowledge of the different acculturation strategies employed by African adolescent refugees will be helpful to school counselors in designing activities that will include both mainstream and adolescent refugees to promote integration. At the same time, for those adolescents who may be marginalized and separated, school counselors may involve their peers (from their cultural backgrounds) who may be more adjusted and may understand them better in helping them through adjustment.
Furthermore, the school community has been considered a “home,” “second family,” the “mother and father” (Davies, 2008; Kia-Keating & Ellis, 2007) for some adolescent refugees. It appears most of the peers they interact with are schoolmates from the mainstream host culture (Kovacev & Shute, 2004). In this context, the overarching hypothesis of this study is that social support from parents and peers has a central role in adolescent refugees‟ psychosocial adjustment in resettlement. If this is found to exist among African adolescent refugees, school counselors will be able to assist adolescents through implementation of peer support networks with their peers from the mainstream culture that may positively impact their adjustment in schools. Also, by knowing whether parents play a pivotal role in the overall well-being of their children, school and
For the purposes of this study, the relevant terms are defined as follows:
Acculturation is defined as a process that refers to the changes in cultural attitudes, values, and behaviors that result from intercultural contact (Berry, 1997). In this study, acculturation will be measured by the Acculturation Attitudes Questionnaire (Berry et al., 2000). Four acculturation attitudes will be measured (i.e., assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization).