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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding the lifeworlds of three Central American refugees in Vancouver, British Columbia Hernandez, Patricia


The purpose of this study was to understand the meaning of "opportunity" as expressed in the experiences of three recent refugee youth from Central America (Guatemala and El Salvador). The setting of the study was MOSAIC'S Youth Job Corps programme in Vancouver, Canada. This four-month voluntary programme was designed to give immigrant Canadian youth language skills to facilitate their entry into the work force. Data for the study were obtained through a twenty-week field study at the Job Corps site followed by the construction of three case studies based upon a series of interviews. Among the findings of the study were the following: the three refugees used a notion of opportunity as the overriding theme in defining their situation in Canada. This theme contained two aspects. First, the "what" of opportunity was future-oriented and contained a social dimension of "wanting to become someone," a material dimension concerned with "wanting to have things," and a familial dimension of "wanting to maintain the family unit." Second, the "how" of opportunity referred to the way the three refugees defined opportunity in terms of their past experiences, their initial difficulties since coming to Canada, the support networks available to them in Canada, their perception of the lives of other immigrants, and finally, the age factor. There was a strong awareness among the refugees studied that their attainment of personal goals (the "what" of opportunity) was dependent on acquiring fluency in the English language and in their finding secure employment with career mobility. The study also found that many of the refugees' future aspirations were related to their own past experiences in their countries of origin.

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