An Ethnographic Study of a Refugee Family in the Initial Stages of Resettlement in a Major City in the United States
The researcher used ethnographic methods to catalog the experiences of a family of Burmese refugees re-settled in the U.S. Archival video footage from a documentary film was analyzed in the light of Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) Ecological Systems theory in order to understand: 1) the expectations the family had about life in the U.S. before coming, (2) the way the family acquired resources for setting up a household, (3) the nature of any social or kinship relational networks of which they became a part once arriving, (4) the nature of their institutional interactions with schools, resettlement agencies, or the organs of government, (5) the nature and effectiveness of any interagency collaborations designed to help the family with resettlement. The refugee family was interviewed at three distinct times: upon arrival, six months, and one year after arrival. Their responses to the interview questions were transcribed and then cataloged with respect to Ecological Systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Furthermore, key players in the resettlement experience also were interviewed. These participants included school personnel, the resettlement agency director and employees, a city and state level official, representatives of non-profit community assistance agencies, and a representative of a local Burmese community outreach organization. All were asked either about the family in this study or about the re-settlement experience in general, depending upon their acquaintance with the participating family. Their responses were also transcribed and cataloged with respect to Ecological Systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Through a process of data triangulation between the responses of the family and the other participants, the visual ethnographer identified which problems in resettlement consistently arise over time. Ecological Systems theory further informed the ethnographer as to the distance of the solutions to these problems from the family itself. The software application NVIVO, specifically designed for qualitative analysis, provided the heuristic consistency required to establish both inter-rater agreement and the identification of which issues consistently arise throughout the interview footage. Issues resulting from the analysis include, but are not limited to: communication with service providers, inequitable distribution of resources among agencies and states, language acquisition, low wages, and transportation difficulties and how they affect employment. Some of the problems are institutional, such as misinformation refugees receive at orientation prior to resettlement and lack of consortium among the involved agencies. Caseworkers are expected to serve an inordinate number of families whose language they may not know and for whom they are not properly trained to act as social service providers. Cultural differences cause problems when there are prioritizing decisions to be made concerning the purchase of supplies for the household, as what the families believe is important or acceptable does not always reflect the way their households are supplied when they arrive. Other issues involve the mental health of the family members themselves, and these arise when the cultural differences are in play.