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During the last century, the United States has seen a high rate of immigration from other countries, with inevitable effects on our educational system. During the past decade, immigration from Asian nations in particular to the United States has reached an historically unprecedented level. Data indicate that Korea has been one of the top ten sources of immigration during the past two decades, and a large number of these Korean immigrants have settled in California, (Su-Je, et. al., 2002) but our country has many new residents from all Asian countries as well as many others. In the classroom this presents an educational problem as teachers may be faced not only with students who don't understand English yet, but multiple such students each speaking a different language. While many of these students come from cultures that put great importance on academic achievement.
However, students who don't speak English and who have come here from another country and culture face multiple obstacles to getting a good education. Students who struggle in school are great risk of dropping out. Other difficulties the students may face stem from difficulties they may have experienced in their country of origin, the effects of poverty or cultural differences that make them less able to cope with our American system of education.
It stands to reason that early, intelligent intervention that takes the difficulties of moving from one country to another into account can greatly increase the students' chance of developing well both psychologically and educationally.
This study intends to look at some of the research that has been done regarding students from other cultures and countries to determine what strategies schools can use to help these students maximize their educational opportunities.
Research has been done with students from various countries in Asia that shows a cluster of difficulties. The students have difficulty communicating with others, and have difficulties suddenly attending schools that reflect unfamiliar customs and value systems. They often have difficulty getting along with others and in spite of great desire to learn, struggle academically because of the language barrier. For some Asian student this last problem causes confusion in some of their teachers because of the widely-held stereotype that Asian students are model students, hard-working and high-achieving (Yeh, 2002).
Previous research has shown three important patterns that help ensure that a student from another country will stay in school. The first is good communication between school and home. Because in many cases, the parents and child share the values of the school, a common bond exists (Bhattacharya, 2000). Later we will look at some factors that get in the way in spite of that commonality
Secondly, many parents of immigrant students openly express their desire that the child do well in school, so the student gets a consistent message that school is important. The final factor is the students' agreement that school achievement is important. Maintaining this desire to succeed academically is an important way to encourage students to stay in school (Bhattacharya, 2000)
It is vitally important, then that schools have a plan based on understanding of the immigrant students and their social and cultural needs as well as their academic needs if they are to educate the students well. This survey of the current research will look at problems of immigrant students, including: academic frustration, culture shock, facing prejudice and stereotypes, past traumatic experiences, language problems, and the psychological stresses of immigration to a new and strange country.
Defining the problem:
According to the 2000 census, The United Sates had almost 11 million Asian residents. By the year 2020, that number is expected to rise to 20 million. The largest groups are Chinese (24%), Japanese (12%) and Korean (11%). Two-thirds of these residents were born outside the United States.
Prejudice is a very real factor. Buchanan devotes an entire chapter in his book on immigration about the immigration of Mexicans to the United States. He describes it as "larger than any wave from any other country in so short a time. The new arrivals do not assimilate, because home is so close, and because America does not ask them to. What values do they bring? Pro- immigration conservatives argue that Mexicans come here to work, while antis counter that they often bring extended-family members who do not.... Uncle Sam is taking a hellish risk [allowing this immigration to continue].... And if we are making a fatal blunder, it is not a decision we can ever revisit." (Buchanan, 2002) While Buchanan targeted Mexicans in that chapter, immigrants from many countries experience prejudice from those who are uncomfortable having many people from other countries move to the United States.
One of the biggest social challenges facing a student from a foreign country is in finding a way to fit in at his or her new school. That process can be called "acculturation," sometimes defined as learning the social conventions of the new cultures while maintaining one's own cultural values (Bhattacharya, 2000). It has been widely assumed that children and teenagers adjust to new cultures with relative ease, but research has shown that this often isn't true (Yeh, 2002). The unsettling experience of finding that old problem solving strategies used in one's old culture no longer work in the new one has been called "culture shock." It causes emotional distress and can lead to psychological difficulties (Yeh, 2002). The new student encounters new values, unfamiliar behavior in classmates, and norms different than what they are accustomed to. A sense of loss of their old, more familiar country can result in and even lead to depression and anxiety. Language barriers magnify all these difficulties. Some cultures, such as some Asian ones, don't encourage young people to talk about their feelings, and this makes it difficult for these students to reach out for help (Yeh, 2002).
Another serious problem is discrimination. While no one likes the feeling of being discriminated against, many immigrants have left a country made up almost entirely of one race. Some of these cultures instill a feeling that their race is superior to others. For students holding such attitudes, the experience of being discriminated against when they come to the United States is confusing and stressful (Yeh, 2002). Research on the stresses immigrant adolescents have experienced pointed out all these difficulties, finding that they were all aggravated by language barriers (Yeh, 2002). This research, which looked at students from China, Japan, and Korea, found that the new customs and values encountered in the United States caused confusion and stress as well because they were in conflict with the ones they had grown up with.
Coping with difficulties:
Research on the difficulties immigrant students have faced show that they use different coping mechanisms from culture to culture. They aren't typically mechanisms that make any changes in their situation. Meanwhile, educators tend, particularly in the case of Asian students, to assume that the students are well adjusted and having no significant difficulties (Yeh, 2002) while the reality is that students from all immigrant groups, including Asian ones, are more likely to drop out of high school, get involved in petty crime or join gangs than other students (Yeh, 2002).
Most of these students are in schools that could make counseling available, but many students have come from cultures where this isn't seen as a common solution. In addition, in many other countries, significant shame is linked with getting any kind of counseling or psychological help. Because of this stigma, many immigrant students are unlikely to seek any kind of professional help (Yeh, 2002) even when under considerable stress. In addition, since mental health services aren't part of their primary culture, there may be reduced understanding of how to get them and how they might help.
Special needs and immigrant children:
Special stresses occur for the immigrant parents of students who have special needs. While in the United States most parents and teachers accept that some students have disabilities and will require specialized help, usually from no fault of the parents, not all other cultures share this view. When the child of immigrant parents needs special education, the situation can create a crisis for the child's family. In one study, 44% of the immigrant mothers of young children found to have a serious disability seriously considered committing suicide. While most Americans would view this as a severely dysfunctional response, in some cultures (in this case, Korean), the response was typical (Su-Je, et. al., 2002). These mothers often felt it would be appropriate for the entire family to die because of the great shame of having a handicapped child. Some mothers went so far as to make concrete plans but then backed out. While many educators understand that different cultures may see more of a crisis when a child is found to be handicapped, many do not understand the depth of the despair of some parents when given such news.
In addition, many of these mothers believed that the child had this disability because…[continue]
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