When we think of refugees, we usually imagine the suffering that forced them to leave their country and the difficulties they encounter as they settle in a new environment. Research studies of refugees often focus on the psychological trauma they experience as a result of such hardship and displacement. Yet focusing only on mental anguish can stigmatize the group and may negate other important aspects of their lives that also affect their successful survival in the new environment. Must the experience of refugees be predominantly negative? Can moving to another country bring new opportunities and result in personal growth? Some groups and individuals are likely to adjust to new conditions better than others: what affects their easier adaptation?
With support from the Foundation, Hisako Matsuo, Wai Hsien Cheah, and Ajlina Karamehic will address these questions by studying the adaptation process of Bosnian refugees in St. Louis. The investigators will look at both the difficulties the refugees experience and the strategies they use to survive in the new environment. Using standard interview scales, they will create psycho-social profiles of Bosnians in St. Louis to characterize their cross-cultural adaptation experience. Matsuo and her team will then examine whether these profiles predict the refugees’ functional fitness, psychological health, and cultural identity. They will also conduct several focus groups to examine whether and why certain segments of the Bosnian groups adapt and adjust better than others. Results of the project will be presented at sociological conferences and to refugee resettlement agencies. The investigators will also write several articles based on the work and submit them to academic journals.