Arriving and Adapting to change in the US
Inspired by the article “The Karen resettlement story: A Participatory action research project on refugee educational experiences in the United States.” – Gilhooly and Lee
What do I have in common with Karen refugees’ experiences resettling in the United States? The article resonates with me because I have had similar experiences in my education, work, social upbringing, and with communication barriers I experienced as Spanish was my first language at home. When I first moved to San Antonio I felt as a complete outsider as I encountered barriers due to cultural differences, different beliefs, education that seemed advanced, and even the fast pace of life in comparison to what I was used to in my previous life and learnings. For example, when I first moved to San Antonio to attend college from high school, I felt my learnings from high school were not at college level because I noticed that the course work required was a bit harder than what I was used to in high school. I was in an unfamiliar territory that required me to study extra to catch-up to college level standards. In addition, it was the first time that I was on my own away from home and I had to take on a job to pay for bills and my college education. These two examples remind everyday of how far I have come and the many lessons that I have learned.
The Gilhooly and Lee article shows firsthand how many children of families who are seeking to improve their lives and better their kids’ education, face many challenges with bullying, gangs, language barriers, lack of parental involvement in their schooling, and even problems with navigating gender identity as they start their new life in a new country. The article has a personal connection to one of the researchers (Lee) as he was curious to explore the resettlement experiences of those family and friends of the Karen family.
As an action research study, the how is of course central to the story. In this process, learning the values and experiences of participants, becoming part of the community, and involving family relatives in the research expanded networks and enhanced the collection of information. This led to better understanding how many lives are transformed when arriving in the US. The researcher (Lee) was able to relate, show empathy and create a comfort zone with the participants. He did this by conducting semi-structured interviews, informal conversations with the Karen youth, their parents and school teachers, participation observation and collecting artifacts such as drawings and letters as primary sources of data. These methods helped engage participant feelings and made the research more valuable and the written product more appealing to readers.
By generating caring, belonging, empathy, inspiration, and motivation, I believe AR processes like the one described in this article will assist many families that are coming to the US for the first time and help them adjust to many differences they will inevitably face.