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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Salvadorean and Guatemalan youth in exile : adapting to life in Canada Smiley, William James


The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of Salvadorean and Guatemalan youth adapting to life in Canada. Qualitative methods were used to allow the participants to share their experiences and perceptions in their own words. The data emphasize individuality and common concerns rather than numbers or labels. Focused interviews were done with youth between the ages of 16 and 24 years. Thirteen males and eleven females were interviewed. Their time in Canada ranged from a couple of weeks to five years. The findings revealed that many were experiencing emotional and psychological wounds due to traumatic pre-migration experiences of war and violence. Symptoms reported included; nightmares, insomnia, intrusive memories, lack of concentration, depression, and anxiety. Our social and mental health services are not prepared to deal with these problems. The highest risk population seemed to be single young men who have come to Canada as refugee claimants. They do not even have the support of family and friends. These young men also face the added stress of waiting to see if they will be deported or allowed to stay in Canada. The youth described adapting to the cultural differences, their experiences of discrimination and racism, and the frustrations of learning English. They talked about family problems complicated by conflicting cultural values and changing gender roles. They shared their strengths, ways of coping, and aspirations. The study revealed a lack of services for refugee youth. Our institutions are not responsive to those who have had their formal education interrupted by war and migration. Although Canada's official policy is one of multiculturalism, our institutions and attitudes seem to expect these newcomers to be "regular Canadians". Their transition from one culture to another at a time of identity formation, further complicated by the scars of trauma, is very difficult. A whole range of services is required, including counselling, support groups, cultural orientation programmes, leisure and recreation programmes, more flexible and responsive educational programmes, and employment training. Canada is a multicultural mosaic and immigrant and refugee youth are a part of our future. The role of social work in addressing these needs is discussed.

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