Evaluation of a School-Based Internship Program for Chinese Immigrant Adolescents in the United States

Article excerpt

Asian immigrant urban adolescents face numerous challenges while adjusting to life in the United States. They may experience a deep sense of loss as a result of having left familiar environments (James, 1997) or struggle with language differences that significantly affect academic performance (Esquivel & Keitel, 1990; James, 1997), harm one's self-esteem (Kim, 1996; Lynch 1992), and cause a great deal of stress (Lynch, 1992; Yeh & Inose, 2002). In school, Asian immigrant adolescents may experience a variety of stressors, including negotiating a new school system, racial discrimination, and inter-group tensions (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Yeh, Arora et al., 2003; Yeh, Ma et al., 2005). Having emigrated from a racially homogenous environment, Asian immigrants may find changes in expectations, different communication styles, and subjugation to stereotypes very confusing (Yeh & Inose, 2002). These problems exist during an already challenging developmental period in which adolescents generally experience numerous physiological and emotional changes (Levy-Warren, 1996).

Adjustment difficulties of Asian immigrants are indicated by high rates of truancy, school drop out, juvenile delinquency, post-traumatic stress disorder, and gang involvement (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Lee, 2001; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi, 1995). Since many immigrants in the U.S. view professional counseling to be more acceptable when it occurs in a school environment (James, 1997), school counselors are in an important position to intervene on behalf of immigrant youth and their families.

Numerous studies in schools have incorporated an ecological systems perspective in order to understand the multiple contexts that affect individuals (Bronfenbrenner, 1989; 1994; Trickett & Schmid, 1993). This approach focuses on understanding the influences on psychological and emotional functioning across social settings and the dynamic interactions between a developing individual and his or her environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Due to the growing number of Asian immigrant adolescents in the U.S., developing a comprehensive understanding of their various coping strategies and cultural adjustment processes is becoming increasingly significant (Nastasi, Varjas, Sarker, & Jayasana, 1998).

Intervention strategies which consider the cultural characteristics of Asian immigrant adolescents are required if positive mental health outcomes are to be achieved (Sue & Sue, 2003; Yeh, 2004). Our study sought to understand how immigrant adolescents adjust to new cultural environments within the school setting (Bemak & Chung, 2003). We evaluated the experiences of Chinese immigrant adolescents who became participatory action researchers (PAR) (Fine et al., 2002) through a school-based internship program led by several graduate students in the U.S. Evaluation of the project was conducted using content analysis of student researchers' journal entries.

The PAR model (Brydon-Miller, 1997; Levin, 1993) seeks to create ecologically valid and culturally responsive interventions that address immediate concerns while also aiming for systematic social change (Fine et al., 2002; Levin, 1993; Nastasi, Varjas, Sarker, & Jayasana 1998). Similar to other constructivist research methods, meaning is co-constructed between the researchers and the target population of the study. PAR, however, also involves the study participants as integral research collaborators (Nastasi, Varjas, Sarker, & Jayasana 1998; Stringer, 1999).

Using the PAR approach, researchers have collaborated with a variety of institutional and cultural organizations to implement interventions with underserved populations including immigrants, the disabled, adolescents, and low-income ethnic minorities. For example, McIntyre (2000) used a PAR approach with low-income urban middleschoolers to understand the meaning and effects of violence on adolescents and develop interventions that worked to counteract violence in daily living. …