ERIC Identifier: ED252638
Publication Date: 1984-04-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
The Social and Psychological Adjustment of Southeast Asian
Refugees. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 21.
Southeast Asian refugees have decreasing dependence on welfare with each year
in this country, a far lower criminal record than the general population, good
school behavior, and active networks and cultural societies. However, specific
sources of stress related to the war and evacuation, isolation from families and
home communities, changing roles, the new culture, and under- and unemployment
are likely to cause depression, anxiety, hostility, somatic symptoms, paranoia
and other stress reactions.
GROUPS AT RISK
Adolescent refugees who arrived in the United States alone often had problems
in Asia, and, though they used the exodus to solve family conflicts, their
migration actually exacerbated their tendency toward emotional distress
(Williams and Westermeyer 1983).
It has been suggested that the three best predictors of adolescent emotional
distress are being female, not getting along with American classmates, and not
getting along with parents (Charron and Ness 1981).
Children in the last wave of immigration may have more emotional difficulty
than those in earlier waves because of the atrocities they saw in the seas and
in the camps before coming to the United States (Marquez 1981).
Finally, people who have undergone shifting role identities are particularly
at risk for stress. The stress may result from loss of professional status
(Vignes and Hall 1979), possession of nontransferrable skills (Lin and others
1979), recent widowhood, or, among women, the necessity of both child-rearing
and working or remaining isolated in the home because of young children (Lin and
STRESS AND CHILDREN'S AGE OF MIGRATION
Infants arriving in the United States between six months and two years
present a unique problem. They seem to adjust quickly and well, but their
memories of their countries, the camps, and the trip are preverbal and, for the
most part, come out only in nightmares. Because there is no way to deal with
these preverbal memories, they may persist indefinitely, and this group may
prove to have the most severe problems.
Children who arrived between twelve months and three years of age were in a
period of rapid language acquisition, which was often disrupted or even stopped
by trauma. Furthermore, these children changed language and habit systems before
they were old enough to conceptualize the differences. Thus they are susceptible
to language-learning problems and related neurotic behavior.
Children who were between three and ten years of age on arrival will have
memories of their country, the war, and the long difficult trip. They will learn
English as a second language, and their experiences of trauma and change can be
dealt with verbally.
The adjustment of youth who were between nine and fifteen at the time of
arrival will be compounded by the identity confusions of adolescence. Conflicts
about being Southeast Asian or American -- betraying one for the other -- are
often shown by limit-testing: "I'm Vietnamese. These are American rules" (Carlin
ORIENTATION AND COUNSELING IN THE SCHOOLS
A new refugee student in an American school is beset daily by questions.
School personnel need to take a little more time when doing anything with a
Southeast Asian student. They should be empathetic, gentle, and soft spoken
New students will need information on:
--The structure of the academic system
--Options in various educational programs
--How academic performance is graded
--Rules of behavior for the school and with peers
--Assistance in conflicts with parents
--Ways to share their culture with classmates
Teachers and counselors need to be aware of critical areas of possible
conflict, such as more rapid rates of assimilation and language learning by
children than their parents (Ellis 1980); cultural differences in learning
styles (though what is studied at a given grade level is similar in Southeast
Asia and the U. S., the method of teaching differs considerably); and different
styles of social relationships (the apparently inappropriate smile of a
Southeast Asian child may be his or her cultural way of expressing
When a Southeast Asian student misbehaves, this misbehavior may be the result
of one or more of the following sources of tension (Liu and others 1981):
--Frustration due to language problems and misunderstandings
--Imitation out of a desire for rapid adaptation
--Violent or asocial behavior learned in the camps
--Historical animosity among various Southeast Asian groups
--Adjustment difficulties because school rules here are less strict and
--Culture-gap in the family resulting from different rates of assimilation
Activities aimed at support and prevention are crucial and include special
counseling; making teachers and Southeast Asian and American students aware of
the cultural differences; planning activities to improve communication between
Southeast Asian and other students; and giving clear strong roles to bilingual
instructional aides (Liu and others 1981).
When infractions do occur, students should be handled fairly, as staff would
handle any student. First infractions should be met with warnings. Since
Indochinese parents are concerned about and deeply involved in their children's
education, parents should be contacted, and an explanation should be given of
what has happened. Finally, native speakers should be used whenever the problems
are serious or there is the possibility of cultural and/or linguistic
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Alley, J. "Better Understanding of the Indochinese Students." EDUCATION 101
Carlin, J. F. "The Catastrophically Uprooted Child: Southeast Asian Refugee
Children." In BASIC HANDBOOK FOR CHILD PSYCHIATRY. Volume I, edited by J. D.
Noshpitz and others. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
Charron, D. W., and R. C. Ness. "Emotional Stress Among Vietnamese
Adolescents: A Statewide Survey." JOURNAL OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT 1 (1981):7-15.
Ellis, A. A. THE ASSIMILATION AND ACCULTURATION OF INDOCHINESE CHILDREN INTO
AMERICAN CULTURE. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Social
Services, Office of Refugee Services, 1980. ED 213 484.
Lin, K. M., and others. "Adaptational Problems of Vietnamese Refugees: Health
and Mental Health Status." ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY 36 (1979):955-961.
Liu, Shuh Yun, and others. SOME CONSIDERATIONS FOR COPING WITH SCHOOL
PROBLEMS INVOLVING INDOCHINESE STUDENTS. Olympia, WA: Office of the State
Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1981. ED 204 469.
Marquez, A. S. SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT OF THE INDOCHINESE REFUGEES IN LOS ANGELES
AND ORANGE COUNTIES. San Francisco, CA: 1981.
Vignes, A. J., and R. C. W. Hall. "Adjustment of a Group of Vietnamese People
to the United States." AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY 136 (1979):442-444.
Williams, C., and J. Westermeyer. "Psychiatric Problems Among Adolescent
Southeast Asian Refugees." THE JOURNAL OF NERVOUS AND MENTAL DISEASE 171