The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

African Young Adult Immigrants' Transitions Into Adulthood: The Social Construction & Utility of Role Models

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 2:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Hugo Kamya, PhD, Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Abbie K. Frost, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Africans are one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the US.  This study examined the utility and social construction of role models for African young adults.  Research aims were to understand: transition challenges, social construction of role models, and the utility of role models within the context of social and community capital.

Research on African immigrants has focused on cultural transitions/adaptations.  Less is understood about experiences and social/community supports of African young adults and their transition into adulthood.  Few studies have examined these issues from the perspective of African immigrant young adults.

Participants were drawn from two grassroots African immigrant community organizations from large and small urban settings in the northeast, representing five African countries.  Descriptive information was gathered from 125 families on sources of community support, spiritual beliefs, involvement in faith communities, and immigrant experiences.  A series of 6 gender-specific focus groups were conducted with young adults from these immigrant communities.  Focus groups explored: transitions; challenges in acquiring adult roles; sources of support (families, faith and other communities); and factors promoting resilience.

Descriptive statistics were used to analyze quantitative data.  Qualitative analyses used an inductive, investigative, and thematic process in a phenomenological approach to produce an explication of the data.

Over 50% of the families recently immigrated (1-5 years).  About 65% of parents did not have a college degree; most (85%) were employed in the service industry or unemployed.  Family income for 68% of the sample was $25,000 or less.  Most (82%) spoke their native language in the home.

Focus group findings identified gender differences, with females describing more success in transitioning into college.  These young women experienced more pressures than their male counterparts and reported fewer role models.  Finally, they were encouraged to adhere to traditional roles.

For young adult men and women, roles models were important across all aspects of life.  Role models were young adults from their communities who had found ways to successfully negotiate transitions into adulthood.  Identity and transition were affected by experiences of acculturation as well as stigma/discrimination in various settings.  Emerging themes included the role of hope and religion as protective factors.  Young adults described a collectivistic approach to self understanding.

Transition challenges included: intergenerational conflict; language communication issues; conflict in goals perceived by parents and young adults; feelings of loss; host culture's expectations; and a sense of being caught between two or more cultures with no clear identification with either or both.

Success was “shared” with other African immigrants who experienced similar transitions.  The social context for these young adults was important.  Transition challenges related to immigration were supported through families and immigrant community members as well as other young adults who made similar transitions.  Further research is needed to examine how these transitions are linked to mental health functioning.  Recommendations are given for organizations to assist African young adults in these multiple transitions.  Addressing and solidifying the contribution that role models play in the lives of young adults is key to successful transitioning.