Chinese Immigrant High School Students' Cultural Interactions, Acculturation, Family Obligations, Language Use, and Social Support

By Yeh, Christine J.; Okubo, Yuki et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Chinese Immigrant High School Students' Cultural Interactions, Acculturation, Family Obligations, Language Use, and Social Support


Yeh, Christine J., Okubo, Yuki, Ma, Pei-Wen Winnie, Shea, Munyi, Ou, Dongshu, Pituc, Stephanie T., Adolescence


The Asian American population is the fastest growing racial group in the United States. Currently there are estimated to be 13.5 million Asian Americans living in the U.S., which comprises 5% of the total population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). About 63% of the Asian American population was born in Asia, and 11% of them are from China. Most Asian immigrants are families with children who settled in metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). Although a growing numbers of Chinese immigrant students are attending urban public schools, little is known about the challenges they face as immigrants adapting to a new cultural environment (Yeh, Kim, Pituc, & Atkins, 2008). Because we believe immigrant youth are inextricably linked to the social systems in which they interact, the current study uses an ecological perspective (see Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Yeh et al., 2008) in exploring cultural and relational factors that influence Chinese immigrant adolescents' intercultural competence as it relates to their cultural adjustment process.

Intercultural competence refers to the challenges in relating to others, such as White Americans, one's own ethnic group, and one's family (Sodowsky & Lai, 1997). In particular, we sought to understand how such factors as cultural (acculturation), relational (social support), familial (responsibilities and obligations at home), school (comfort in and knowledge about seeking academic and career resources at school), and personal (English language fluency) are associated with how Chinese immigrant high school students' think about their interactions across dominant and cultural groups.

Asian immigrant youth who often have idealistic expectations of life in the U.S. (Yeh et al., 2005; Yeh et al., 2003) are disappointed when they confront poverty, alienation, intergenerational conflict, and loss (Yeh, 2003; Yeh et al., 2008). Many immigrant children and adolescents arrive with limited or no English language proficiency and are often faced with other adjustment issues such as inability to assimilate with the peer culture (Kim & Choi, 1994; Yeh et al., 2008) and balancing academic demands and family obligations such as translating for parents and caring for siblings (Fuligni, Yip, & Tseng, 2002; Yeh et al., 2008). Furthermore, low-income immigrant adolescents often find themselves with limited knowledge about and access to resources (Louie, 2001) which would help them navigate through the U.S. education system and make informed education and career choices (Ma & Yeh, 2005; Ma & Yeh, in press; Okubo, Yeh, Lin, Fujita, & Shea, 2007).

Specifically, difficulties inherent in the process of cultural adjustment have been conceptualized in terms of concern about social, academic, career, and cultural competence (Sodowsky & Lai, 1997). Social concern refers to immigrants' comfort level in interacting with White Americans, one's own group, and other cultural groups. Academic and career competence refer to one's ability to successfully plan and make appropriate decisions. Cultural competence entails pride in one's own culture, perception of acceptance by White Americans and other cultures, and of one's adjustment to both cultures (Sodowsky & Lai, 1997).

Intercultural competence is particularly important to Asian immigrant high school students because they are expected to plan for college and a career. Many of these students have difficulty navigating the U.S. education system and adapting to a new environment (Shea, Ma, & Yeh, 2007; Yeh et al., 2008). However, many teachers and school staff still hold to the stereotype of Asian Americans as the "model minority" because of their high academic achievement and because they report fewer mental health problems (Hsia & Peng, 1998; Kim & Yeh, 2002; Lee, 1999).This stereotype creates difficulties for those adolescents who are having communication difficulties (Huang, 1997; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Yeh & Inose, 2002), interpersonal and academic/ career problems (Ma & Yeh, 2005; Yeh & Inose, 2002). …

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Chinese Immigrant High School Students' Cultural Interactions, Acculturation, Family Obligations, Language Use, and Social Support
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