Refugees from Burma: stress and coping strategies in the United States




Lin, Yen-Ling

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The initial experience of refugees who come to the United States (U.S) may have direct consequences for how they come to feel about their new homeland and their willingness to fully acculturate into U.S. society and take advantage of the opportunities it affords them. According to the report of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2008a), over one million persons obtained legal permanent resident status in the U.S. in 2008. The U.S. Census Bureau (2008) noted that 12.6% of the total U.S. population is foreign-born, and 16% of individuals living in Texas are foreign-born. Furthermore, from 2000 to 2008, the U.S. accepted about 452,199 refugees, and 5,113 refugees settled in Texas in 2008. The number of Burmese refugees was 18,139 in 2008 in the U.S. (The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008b). These individuals have different cultural backgrounds and experiences that differ from what they find in the U.S., such as education and health care systems. Although refugees from different countries may share similar stressors, including learning English and adapting to American culture, their different backgrounds and cultures can influence refugees' experience of resettlement in unique ways. Because few studies have focused on Burmese refugees' experiences and adaptation, we know very little about how to address the problems unique to Burmese refuges. Yet 30.2% of the total refugees accepted in 2008 were Burmese (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008b). The purpose of this study is to understand the experience of refugees from Burma who have resettled in the U.S. The researcher interviewed 12 participants and analyzed data using a phenomenological approach. The participants' narratives illustrated their unique aspects of their experience of emigration from Burma to the U.S. as well as experiences that parallel those of other immigrants. Eight themes were identified in the current study: acculturative stress, challenges in living in the U.S., the importance of obtaining employment, strategies applied for handling daily stressors, their focus on the family and children, essential resources for starting over in the U.S., suggestions many had for new arrivals, and their mixed feelings about resettling in the U.S. Suggestions also are provided by the researcher for professionals and agencies to use in facilitating the adaptation of Burmese refugees.


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acculturation, Burma, Coping, phenomenological, Refugees, Stress