Development of a Mentoring Program for Chinese Immigrant Adolescents' Cultural Adjustment

By Yeh, Christine J.; Ching, Alison M. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview
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Development of a Mentoring Program for Chinese Immigrant Adolescents' Cultural Adjustment


Yeh, Christine J., Ching, Alison M., Okubo, Yuki, Luthar, Suniya S., Adolescence


Asian youth face a multitude of challenges upon immigration to the United States, including language and communication barriers, accessing and building social support, and adjusting to a new school environment (Cheng, 1994; Lynch, 1992; Yeh & Inose, 2002; Yeh, Ma, et al. 2005; Zheng & Berry, 1991). In this investigation, Chinese immigrant youth collaborated with university researchers to create a culturally responsive peer mentoring program for new immigrant students.

English language ability is a critical aspect of cultural adjustment and is often cited as the most formidable obstacle facing immigrant youth (Huang, 1997; Yeh & Inose, 2002). Limited English proficiency can adversely impact youths' academic performance as well as interpersonal and social relationships (James, 1997; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Lynch, 1992). English reading and speaking ability has been found to predict acculturative stress (Kuo & Roysircar, 2004; Nwadiorn & McAdoo, 1996) and Chinese immigrant youth have also reported lower levels of academic self-efficacy in courses that require English fluency (Zhou et al., 2003).

Social support is an especially important source of coping for immigrant populations (Roysircar & Frey, 2003), and while many Asian immigrant youth have reported a lack of adequate and/or accessible emotional and academic resources for support (Zhou et al., 2003) they often turn to their ethnic peers for help (Way & Chen, 2000; Zhou et al., 2003; Yeh et al., 2003). While positive relationships with parents and peers have also been associated with lower levels of depression in Asian adolescents (Wong, 2001), Chinese immigrant youth have been found to experience increased psychological stress due to intercultural (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Yeh, 2003) as well as intergenerational (Morrow, 1994) conflicts.

Adjusting to a new school environment is academically, socially, and psychologically challenging for immigrant youth due to the complexity of interacting systems that they encounter on a daily basis. For example, immigrant youth must negotiate differences between their own and U.S. cultural norms, values, and worldviews (Roysicar-Sodowsky & Frey, 2003; Yeh, Ma et al., 2005) as well as interactions with teachers, counselors, and peers (Bemak & Chung, 2003; Yeh, Arora et al., 2003). In some contexts, Chinese immigrant youth have been found to view their teachers more negatively than their White American peers do and have very negative perceptions of the overall school context (Zhou et al., 2003).

In addition to these social and contextual factors which impact youth during the acculturation process, Asian immigrants must also contend with psychological distress (Sodowsky & Lai, 1997). Although Asian adolescents in the U.S. have been reported to experience higher academic success and fewer delinquent behaviors than White youth (Lorenzo, Frost, & Reiunharz, 2000), they have also been found to have more negative perceptions and interactions with their environment than their White counterparts (Lorenzo, Frost, & Reinharz, 2000). Such negative perceptions may contribute to increased subjective distress (Zhou et al., 2003). Asian immigrant youth have been found to have higher levels of depression than White youth (Lorenzo, Frost, & Reinharz, 2000; Zhou et al., 2003) and American-born Asian youth (Wong, 2001). Strikingly, Asian immigrant youth who are more assimilated to White American culture have been found to have lower levels of depression than Asian immigrant youth who have more traditional Asian cultural values and norms (Wong, 2001).

Developmentally, adolescence is a time when youths' physical and emotional selves, social interactions, and environmental contexts (e.g., school, home) experience significant restructuring (Cole & Cole, 2001). Puberty, negative effective states such as depression and anxiety, changing relationships vis-a-vis one's family structure, new responsibilities such as work and academics, and increased importance of peer relationships contribute to adolescents' functioning (Thompson, 2002) and impacts the developmental task of identity (Cole & Cole, 2001; Erikson, 1963).

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