Difficulties and Coping Strategies of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Immigrant Students
Yeh, Christine, Inose, Mayuko, Adolescence
In 1999, there were approximately 10.9 million Asians in the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000), and it is expected that Asians will number 20 million by the year 2020 (Ong & Hee, 1993). In terms of specific ethnic groups, 24% are Chinese, 12% are Japanese, and 11% are Korean, representing almost half of the total Asian population in the United States (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993). Additionally, 66% of Asians in the United States were born in another country (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993). Hence, it is assumed that a large number of Asian immigrants are youth who are attending schools throughout the U.S.
Although researchers contend that immigrant youth demonstrate distinctive psychological problems and require emotional support (Chiu & Ring, 1998; James, 1997), they rarely utilize mental health services (James, 1997). Munroe-Blum, Boyle, Offord, and Kates (1989) report that immigrant children utilize mental health services considerably less often than do nonimmigrant children. Researchers believe that lack of culturally sensitive mental health services partially contributes to these underutilization patterns (James, 1997; Sue & Sue, 1999).
Since research has demonstrated that coping strategies differ across cultures (Cross, 1995; Olah, 1995; Yeh & Wang, 2000), it can be assumed that immigrant youth would utilize coping strategies that differ from those used by nonimmigrant students. Moreover, immigrant youth are more likely to experience psychological problems such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and loneliness (James, 1997). Hence, it is essential to identify the difficulties individuals experience when they come to the United States, and the coping strategies they would use, in order to develop culturally relevant services for immigrant youth. Considering the fact that a large number of Asian immigrants reside in the United States, it is imperative for school counselors to recognize their diverse psychological problems and indigenous coping strategies.
There is little information regarding Asian immigrants, especially school-aged youth (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Florsheim, 1997). A possible explanation for the dearth of research is a "model minority" myth, which leads researchers to overlook the psychological problems of Asian immigrant youth (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Florsheim, 1997). Consequently, practitioners may fail to provide effective interventions to Asian immigrant students, assuming that they are well-adjusted. In fact, many Asian immigrant youth exhibit major adaptive problems such as school drop out, juvenile delinquency, and gang involvement (Chiu & Ring, 1998; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi, 1995).
In spite of such problems, Asian immigrants tend to be reluctant to utilize mental health services (Atkinson, Lowe, & Matthews, 1995; Uba, 1994). There are several reasons for this. First, they may be unfamiliar with the concept of mental health services (Sue & Sue, 1999). Moreover, for many Asian cultural groups, revealing personal concerns to others can cause shame for the whole family (Sue, 1994). Thus, discussing personal problems with others may be deemed culturally stigmatizing.
The concept of culture shock (Oberg, 1960) refers to feelings of anxiety people experience when they are unable to utilize problem-solving strategies they had employed in the past. Culture shock triggers strain and feelings of discomfort, and can result in psychological maladjustment (James, 1997). Immigrant youth may experience extreme culture shock as they encounter unfamiliar values, behaviors, and norms (Lynch, 1992). They also may experience a sense of loss as a result of having left their country of origin, community, and social system (James, 1997). As a result, they may become frustrated, irritated, depressed, withdrawn, and lethargic (Lynch, 1992). To complicate matters, it is extremely difficult for Asian immigrant youth to express their feelings due to linguistic barriers (Lynch, 1992) and also since Asian culture de-emphasizes emotional expression (Uba, 1994).
In addition, Asian immigrant youth may experience a variety of stressors in the school environment, including racial discrimination, racial/ethnic stereotyping, language barriers, and intergroup conflicts and tensions (Chiu & Ring, 1998). For example, a student with a foreign accent may feel stigmatized when speaking in class. Furthermore, Asian immigrants, who usually come from racially homogeneous countries, may find being stereotyped and discriminated against very confusing. These problems occur during an already challenging developmental period in which adolescents in general experience numerous physiological and emotional changes (Levy-Warren, 1996).
In order to reach out to Asian immigrant youth, we need to recognize their particular psychological problems and coping strategies. For example, James (1997) argues that the parents of immigrant youth are more open to counseling for their children within the school environment than elsewhere (e.g., traditional mental health services). Understanding the experience and indigenous coping strategies of Asian immigrant youth would help counselors to provide culturally appropriate services. Thus, based on previous theory and research, we developed the two following research goals: (1) to explore problems that Asian immigrant youth may experience when coming to the United States and (2) to determine how they cope with these problems.
The sample consisted of 274 Asian immigrant students from several junior high (7-8th grades) and high schools (9-12th grades) located in a metropolitan area of the East Coast: 114 (41.6%) were Chinese, 113 (41.2%) were Korean, and 47 (17.2%) were Japanese. They ranged in age from 12 to 18 years, with a mean age of 15.96 (SD = 1.68). All of the participants were born in an Asian country, and they reported that they had been in the U.S. for an average of 5.04 years (SD = 4.20). In terms of gender, 144 (52.6%) were female and 130 (47.4%) were male.
The data were collected separately during a larger investigation of the cultural adjustment and mental health of Asian immigrants. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire that gathered information on age, gender, grade, ethnic background, number of close friends, and time in the U.S. In addition, participants were asked about their coping attitudes and counseling experience using two open-ended questions. The first question asked, "Since coming to the United States, what types of difficulties have you experienced?" The second question asked, "How have you coped with these difficulties?"
The participants' answers were read several times by the researchers and a team of three graduate research assistants, who coded them for main themes and patterns using the discovery-oriented exploratory approach (Hill, 1990a, 1990b). Each went through a portion of the responses and sorted them into newly determined categories. All of the coding schemes were combined into a preliminary categorization system that was then used on a large section of the data. After considerable discussion, a new iteration began in which each section of the data was recoded to empirically ground the new categories. Each section underwent several discussions and iterations leading to the final determination of the coding system.
The categories developed to describe the problems experienced by the sample were as follows: unfamiliarity with customs and values, communication difficulties, academics/career, interpersonal relationships, discrimination, intergenerational conflicts, loneliness, and miscellaneous problems. In addition, the following categories were generated to represent various coping strategies endorsed by the sample: impulsive behavior (excessive drinking, eating, smoking, drug use), religious practices, endure, keep to self, confrontation, seek social support, seek professional support (from teacher or counselor), academic orientation, creative activities, and miscellaneous coping practices. The raters coded a randomly selected set of 20 protocols from each section and achieved a high overall level of interrater reliability (Cohen's kappa = .96). Disagreements about coding categories were resolved through discussion.
This study first examined cultural adjustment difficulties and coping strategies among a sample of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese junior high and high school students. Second, we explored differences across ethnic groups. Due to the exploratory nature of the investigation, frequency tables were calculated to determine the most common problems associated with immigration and the most frequently used coping strategies across the three groups. Further, chi-square analyses were used to assess general differences across the groups. This was followed by logistic regression analyses (to accommodate the categorical dependent variables) to determine how the groups differed.
Cultural Adjustment Difficulties
In terms of the most common cultural adjustment difficulties, all three groups reported having problems with communication, unfamiliar customs and values, interpersonal relationships, and academics/career issues. Less frequently reported concerns were discrimination, loneliness, intergenerational conflicts, and miscellaneous problems (see Table 1).
Cross-tabulation analyses were then performed to reveal ethnic group differences. Significant differences were found across the three groups in regard to communication difficulties, [chi square](2, N = 274) = 9.99, p <.01; interpersonal relationships, [chi square](2, N = 274) 18.53, p <.001; and intergenerational conflict, [chi square](2, N = 274) = 13.32, p < .001. The chi-square analyses did not reveal which specific groups significantly differed from one another, with one exception: since no Japanese students reported intergenerational conflict, chi-square analyses revealed that Korean students were significantly more likely than Chinese students to have intergenerational difficulties. Hence, logistic regression analyses were performed to test for significant group differences (see Table 2).
Logistic regression analyses determined that Chinese students were significantly more likely to have communication difficulties than were Japanese and Korean students. In addition, Japanese students were more likely than Korean students, and Korean students were more likely than Chinese students, to have difficulties with interpersonal relationships. In terms of intergenerational conflict, logistic regression analyses were not necessary.
In terms of coping strategies, frequency calculations for the overall sample revealed that the top strategies included the following: seek social support, keep to self, creative activities, and impulsive behavior. Less frequently endorsed coping strategies included academic orientation, seek professional support, and miscellaneous practices (see Table 3).
Cross-tabulation analyses were then performed to reveal differences across ethnic groups. Regarding coping strategies, significant differences were found across the three groups for impulsive behavior, [chi square](2, N = 274) = lO.4l,p < .01; religious practices, [chi square](2, N = 274) = 14.81, p < .001; seek social support, [chi square](2, N = 274) = 14.55, p < .001; and creative activities, [chi square](2, N = 274) = 17.84, p < .0001. Since the chi-square analyses did not reveal which specific groups significantly differed from one another, logistic regression analyses were conducted (see Table 2).
Logistic regression analyses determined that Korean students were more likely than Japanese and Chinese students to endorse religious practices as a form of coping. In addition, Japanese students were significantly more likely than Chinese students, and Chinese students were significantly more likely than Korean students to seek social support. Finally, we found that Chinese students were significantly less likely than Korean and Japanese students to use creative activities to cope with problems.
There were several important findings in regard to cultural adjustment difficulties and coping strategies. In terms of problems associated with immigration, the three groups of Asian immigrant youth experienced communication difficulties, unfamiliarity with values and customs in the U.S., interpersonal problems, and academic/career problems.
Specifically, communication difficulties seemed to represent the largest challenge for our sample of Asian immigrant youth. Fluency in English is a major indicator of acculturation, and it significantly affects the academic performance of immigrant students (Huang, 1997). Moreover, communication difficulties can hinder immigrant students' interaction with nonimmigrant peers (Lee & Zhan, 1998). Furthermore, learning a new language can cause a great deal of stress (James, 1997; Lynch, 1992). Therefore, it is assumed that experiencing communication difficulties would significantly affect the mental health of Asian immigrant students.
The Asian immigrant students encountered values and customs in the U.S. that contradicted those of their country of origin, in particular regarding cooperation versus competition (Lynch, 1992), collectivism versus individualism, and hierarchical relationships versus equality of relationships (Sue & Sue, 1999). The accepted norms and behaviors in their country of origin may be ridiculed or misunderstood in the new environment, which can create confusion and discomfort for new immigrants (Lynch, 1992). In spite of the widespread belief that adolescents can adjust easily to a new culture (Huang, 1997; Hernandez & McGoldrick, 1999), many struggle to learn new values and customs (James, 1997).
Asian immigrant students also reported having interpersonal problems. These could originate from lack of skill in English and strong cultural differences in interactional styles. Specifically, more than half of the Japanese students (53.2%) reported having interpersonal problems. It is well documented that Japanese self-construals are relationally bound, and shift across situations in order to maintain harmonious relationships with others (Hamaguchi, 1985; Lebra, 1976; Markus, Mullally, & Kitayama, 1997; Yeh, 1996; Yeh & Hwang, 2000). It is possible that this would conflict with Western notions of self, and result in interpersonal problems with more independence-oriented individuals (Yeh & Hwang, 2000). Therefore, it can be assumed that Japanese students would feel confused about the different interactional style of relationships in the U.S.
Finally, immigrant youth were also likely to experience academic/career problems. There are several explanations for this trend. First, language difficulties and the discrepancy in teaching styles between the U.S. and Asian countries can impede academic performance--immigrant students have to learn entirely new classroom norms and skills. Moreover, since many Asian families strongly emphasize academic achievement (Homma-True, 1997; Kim, 1997; Sue & Sue, 1999), their children may feel pressured to succeed academically, even in the new environment. Sue and Sue (1999) note that Asian students experience greater fear of academic failure than their non-Asian counterparts. Finally, Lee and Zhan (1998) contend that the "model minority" myth, which Asian students would feel obligated to fulfill, can cause a great deal of stress.
In terms of coping strategies, almost a half of the students (47.1%) reported seeking social support. Previous research (Atkinson, Whiteley & Gim, 1990; Fukuhara, 1989; Yeh & Wang, 2000) has also determined that Asians and Asian Americans tend to seek help from social networks rather than from professionals such as counselors. Since researchers have demonstrated that individuals of Asian ancestry tend to emphasize collectivistic identity (Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989), it is likely that immigrant youth would feel more comfortable sharing their problems with close family members or friends.
The Asian immigrant students were also likely to utilize creative activities when problems arose. It is assumed that expressing feelings through creative activities is helpful for those who have difficulty sharing their thoughts and feelings with others (Berry & Pennebaker, 1993; Yeh & Huang, 1996). Since emotional expression can be seen as problematic in interpersonal relationships in Asian cultures (Yeh, 2000), utilizing creative activities may be a culturally appropriate means of attaining psychological well-being.
The Asian immigrant students tended to keep to self (33.2%) or endure (16.8%) rather than confront (10.9%) when they had problems. This may also be related to the cultural stigma attached to emotional expression (Uba, 1994). Moreover, in cultures that emphasize collectivism and interdependence, willingness to sacrifice and endure in the face of adversity are encouraged (Marsella, 1993). Since maintaining harmonious interpersonal relationships is crucial in Confucian culture, including China, Korea, and Japan (Lee, 1997), these youth may hesitate to confront others in order to avoid creating interpersonal conflicts.
In addition, the finding that Korean youth were more likely to utilize religious practices than were their Chinese and Japanese counterparts is consistent with previous research by Yeh and Wang (2000). This could be related to the fact that the church plays the role of extended family for numerous Korean immigrants (Kim, 1997). Thus, Koreans may feel comfortable sharing their problems with the religious community, which they consider part of their family. Cognizant of the relationship between religious commitment and help-seeking behavior, Yeh and Wang (2000) assert that, in counseling, it is imperative to take into account clients' religious values.
Several limitations of the current study should be noted. First, the sample consisted of junior high and high school students from a large metropolitan area on the East Coast. Thus, generalizability of the findings to other geographic locations and age groups cannot be assumed. Second, the sample consisted only of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean immigrants. Future studies should include additional Asian ethnic groups.
Methodologically, the study was limited by the open-ended format of the questions. However, due to a lack of existing relevant measures and the exploratory nature of the investigation, we believe the structure of the present study was culturally relevant and offered important insights into the challenges and experiences of three Asian immigrant groups. Future research should consider utilizing other valid and reliable measures as they become available.
Our findings indicate that common problems Asian immigrant youth experience upon coming to the U.S. include difficulties with communication, unfamiliar customs and values, interpersonal relationships, and academic/career issues. Since Asian students are often perceived as a "model minority" and their problems tend to be overlooked (Chiu & Ring, 1998), professionals working with this population should keep such problems in mind in order to assist their cultural adjustment. In particular, it is crucial to assess immigrant students' fluency in English, since communication difficulties can be a major challenge and affect their psychological well-being.
Most of the problems the Asian immigrant youth tended to experience were based on cultural differences. Therefore, it is imperative for mental health professionals to consider their level of acculturation. Huang (1997) proposes that practitioners conduct ethnocultural assessments focusing on specific sociocultural factors, as well as standard assessments, when working with culturally different youths.
In this study, it was found that a large number of immigrant youth would seek social support in order to cope with problems. Thus, mental health professionals should incorporate social support networks when working with these youth, because of their collectivistic cultural values. Specifically, Yeh and Wang (2000) suggest that in order to serve the Asian immigrant population effectively, practitioners should collaborate with community members, such as parents, teachers, and school counselors. We also suggest that peers be included in such efforts.
Since creative activities function as a coping strategy for many Asian immigrant youth, who might feel uncomfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings directly because of their cultural values, mental health professionals can utilize such activities to serve this population more effectively. Professionals, including teachers and school counselors, can organize clubs wherein students would be able to engage in many kinds of beneficial activities. Thus, integrating indigenous coping styles can help mental health professionals to reach out to Asian immigrant adolescents.
Table 1 Difficulties by Ethnic Group (N = 274) Total Chinese Korean % n % n % Communication Difficulties 58.8 161 66.7 76 57.5 Unfamiliar Customs and Values. 27.7 76 29.8 34 26.5 Interpersonal Relationships 27.7 76 19.3 22 25.7 Academic/Career 19.0 52 20.2 23 11.5 Discrimination 8.8 24 4.4 5 12.4 Loneliness 6.9 19 7.0 8 6.2 Intergenerational Conflicts 5.5 15 1.8 2 11.5 Miscellaneous 3.6 10 2.6 3 3.5 Korean Japanese n % n Communication Difficulties 65 42.6 20 Unfamiliar Customs and Values. 30 25.5 12 Interpersonal Relationships 29 53.2 25 Academic/Career 13 34.0 16 Discrimination 14 10.6 5 Loneliness 7 8.5 4 Intergenerational Conflicts 13 0.0 0 Miscellaneous 4 6.4 3 Table 2 Summary of Logistic Regression Analyses (N = 274) Dependent Independent B SE Wald Exp(B) Variable Variable Problem Communication Country 9.71 (**) Country (1) 1.10 .36 9.41 (**) 3.02 Country (2) .60 .35 2.95 1.83 Interpersonal Country 17.10 (**) Relationships Country (1) -1.51 .38 16.11 (**) .22 Country (2) -1.19 .36 10.77 (**) .30 Coping Creative Country 1.75 (**) Activities Country (1) -.98 .41 5.79 (*) .37 Country (2) .35 .37 .88 1.41 Religious Country 11.52 (**) Practices Country (1) .22 1.17 .04 1.24 Country (2) 2.10 1.04 4.03 (*) 8.14 Seek Social Country 13.71 (**) Support Country (1) -.96 .37 6.77 (**) .38 Country (2) -1.38 .37 13.68 (**) .25 Note. "Country" is coded as Chinese = 1, Korean = 2 and Japanese = 3; "Countr (1)" is coded as Chinese = 1 and Korean and Japanese = 0; "Country (2)" is coded as Korean = 1 and Chinese and Japanese = 0. If Country (1) and Country (2) are not significant and Country is significant, then Japanese students are significantly different from the Chinese and Korean students. (*)p < .05, (**)p < .01 Table 3 Coping Strategics by Ethnic Group (N = 274) Total Chinese Korean % n % n % Seek Social Support 47.1 129 47.4 54 37.2 Keep to Self 33.2 91 36.8 42 29.2 Creative Activities 27.7 76 14.0 16 40.7 Endure 16.8 46 20.2 23 10.6 Impulsive Behavior 15.7 43 11.4 13 23.9 Confrontation 10.9 30 12.3 14 11.5 Religious Practices 7.7 21 2.6 3 15.0 Academic Orientation 2.6 7 2.6 3 2.7 Professional Support 2.2 6 3.5 4 1.8 Miscellaneous 1.5 4 0.0 0 0.9 Korean Japanese n % n Seek Social Support 42 70.2 33 Keep to Self 33 34.0 16 Creative Activities 46 29.8 14 Endure 12 23.4 11 Impulsive Behavior 27 6.4 3 Confrontation 13 6.4 3 Religious Practices 17 2.1 1 Academic Orientation 3 2.1 1 Professional Support 2 0.0 0 Miscellaneous 1 6.4 3
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The authors contributed equally to the manuscript and are listed in random order. They thank Lillian Chiang, Sunna Jung, Yaowen Chang, Kazu Iwata, Michele Jhun, and Lisa Chin for their assistance with data collection.
Mayuko Inose, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Reprint requests to Christine Yeh, Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street, New York, New York 10027. Electronic mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.…
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Publication information: Article title: Difficulties and Coping Strategies of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Immigrant Students. Contributors: Yeh, Christine - Author, Inose, Mayuko - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 37. Issue: 145 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 69+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.