Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Burmese Refugee Young Women Navigating Parental Expectations and Resettlement

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Burmese Refugee Young Women Navigating Parental Expectations and Resettlement

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Young refugee women have to navigate life in a new country, learn a new language and adapt to a new culture while juggling parental role, behavioural and academic expectations. This qualitative study explored how 10 Burmese refugee young women experience parental expectations pre- and post-migration, and the effect of resettlement on the parent-child relationship. The data was gathered using the semi-structured in-depth interview technique and thematically analysed. The findings revealed changes in parental expectations as a result of resettlement leading to both role reduction and expansion. While playing the linguistic brokering role post-migration has tilted the power dynamics in favour of the young women, this was undermined by increased social restrictions imposed by parents, resulting in intergenerational acculturation conflict among some participants and their parents. Other implicit-factors in causing intergenerational rifts are exposure to an egalitarian style of education and increased access to technology.

KEYWORDS: acculturation, gender roles, intergenerational conflict, linguistic brokering, family


Refugee young women can be said to be 'living in the "borderlands" between origin and "host" societies, and childhood and adulthood' (Sirriyeh, 2010, p. 214). According to Kumsa (2002, p. 472), 'international migration brings people together from all corners of the world and all walks of life, but localising processes of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality vie to set them apart'. This 'paradox of integration and segregation' (Kumsa, 2002, p. 472) sums up the acculturation problem that young female refugees face. At the same time that they have to adjust to life in a new country, learn a new language and adapt to a new culture, they face parental pressure to conform to the behaviour prescribed by their traditional culture. Underlying the challenges of establishing equilibrium between the new and old cultural forces is the need to fulfil ongoing roles and responsibilities such as domestic and childcare duties. Post-migration, they have added linguistic brokering roles (Candappa & Igbinigie, 2003; Robbins, 2007).

The qualitative research on which this paper is based gave young women a voice and an opportunity to talk about their lived experiences in adapting to a new country whilst navigating parental expectations. It focussed on a segment of the Burmese refugee population, specifically women aged between 18 and 25, on which no research has yet been done. The data generated from the research provided insights into the Burmese community, which at 1,443, formed the second largest group of refugees who has settled in Australia under the humanitarian programme in 2010-2011 (DIAC, 2011). This paper will discuss how young Burmese refugee women living in Melbourne experience parental expectations, the changes in parental expectations after resettlement and the resulting impact on their relationship with their parents.

Challenges faced by refugee youth

Refugees experience parental role expectations to a higher degree compared to their non-refugee counterparts. Being from a marginalised group characterised by lack of resources, refugee young people are expected to take on more roles compared to their peers from non-refugee backgrounds (Candappa & Igbinigie, 2003; Perry, 2009).

Conflict resulting from discrepancy in the rates of acculturation between parents and children is well documented in migrant literature (Kibria, 1990; McMichael, Gifford, & Correa-Velez, 2010; van Leeuwen, Rodgers, Regner, & Chabrol, 2010; Ying & Han, 2008; Zhou & Bankston, 2001). According to Dow (2011, p. 210) 'many migrants come from cultures with a strong emphasis on the family and find it very challenging to adapt to a country with a culture that emphasises individuality and independence'. Their parents, however, expect them to conform to behaviour prescribed by their traditional values and belief system (DuongTran, Lee, & Khoi, 1996; Robbins, 2007; Ying & Han, 2008). …

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