How Do Immigrant Students Develop Social Confidence and Make Friends in Secondary School? A Retrospective Study

By Albrecht, Shyanna; Ko, Gina | The Qualitative Report, September 2017 | Go to article overview

How Do Immigrant Students Develop Social Confidence and Make Friends in Secondary School? A Retrospective Study


Albrecht, Shyanna, Ko, Gina, The Qualitative Report


This paper pertains to a retrospective study of immigrant students' experience of making friends and gaining social confidence in secondary school. In the study, 17 undergraduate students participated in either a one-to-one semi-structured interview or focus group. Questions were asked to understand their experiences in making friends and gaining social confidence when they came to Canada between grades five to nine. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was used to analyse the data. This method was useful in looking for commonalities in meaning in participants' responses. In total, seven themes and 20 subthemes were discovered, which are discussed in detail. Implications for school professionals are discussed along with suggestions for future research. Keywords: Immigrant, Adolescence, School, Social Confidence, Friendship, Thematic Analysis

Just by looking around, it is obvious that immigration into Canada is increasing. As of 2011, over 6.8 million foreign-born individuals were residing in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2011), many being immigrant children and youth. By 2014, over 48,000 children with permanent resident status under the age of 15 were estimated to reside throughout Canada (Government of Canada, 2015), while thousands of immigrant children have not been granted residency or received their citizenship. These children face unique difficulties in regards to social integration, language acquisition, cultural differences, transitioning to new schools, and stereotyping and prejudice. Further, they must learn to balance traditions from their old culture and new expectations of the host culture, as well as mediate the demands of their parents with the demands of their new culture (Cheng & Lee, 2013; Social Planning Council of Ottawa, 2010; Tyyska, n.d.).

For illustration, language comprehension is a significant difficulty for many new immigrants. The National Centre for Education Statistics (2004) found that 51% of immigrant students who had difficulty speaking English did not graduate from high school. Immigrant children are often forced to attend school before they adjust to their new home or learn the language skills they need (Social Planning Council of Ottawa, 2010). Possessing a low threshold of English comprehension severely interferes with their ability to learn new concepts, especially in a language that can take between three to seven years, or more, to acquire proficiency (Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000).

Despite the above stressors, new immigrants report a higher sense of overall wellbeing, social and self-actualization, and purpose in life than national born citizens (Bobowik, Basabe, & Paez, 2015). However, even with these affirming aspects, they report a lower level of positive relationships with others (Bobowik et al., 2015). For example, Verbera (2015) identified immigrants' lack of positive friendships with others, while also showing that newly immigrated Mexican high school students benefitted from relationships with host peers helping them navigate the new school system and language barriers. However, most relationships that these new students were with other newly immigrated Mexican students who also spoke Spanish.

Positive relationships in general are necessary for a youth's normal development, let alone for youth who face structural challenges in succeeding with everyday life in both a new language and country. Beyond any specific educational benefits for immigrant students, friendships enable a wide array of positive effects. These effects include, but are not limited to, increasing resilience, school adjustment, quality of life, and overall well-being, while also decreasing feelings of loneliness, depression, and social anxiety (Jasinskaja-Lahti, Liebkind, Jaakkola, & Reuter, 2006; Oppedal & Roysamb, 2004; Stanton-Salazar, 2001; Virta, Sam, & Westin, 2004; Werner & Smith, 2001). How immigrant youth develop the social confidence and friendships to enhance these effects and decrease these upsetting feelings is not well understood. …

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