For resettled youth adjusting to a new home, the road to their host country is often filled with firsthand trauma and loss. Experiencing such things at a young age disrupts the child’s development, triggers their instincts of self-preservation, inhibits their imagination, and results in a sense of constantly being misunderstood and rootless. While technology provides various avenues to stay connected with family and friends back home, electronic relationships only leave refugee youth feeling further isolated from the tangible community around them.
Navigating life between their home culture (i.e. their parents’ culture or passport culture) and their host culture (i.e. the country or countries they have lived in), children who have fled as refugees or have been born into a refugee family tend to have difficulty understanding who they are and where they fit in the world.
In their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken talk about the difficulty cross-cultural kids – including children of refugees – have answering the question, “Who am I?” Outlining what it means to be person, Van Reken goes on to explain what each of us needs to form a sense of self:
Because we are relational beings, we need relationships that are close, ongoing, and where we can truly feel known, and also know others. We need to find a deep sense of belonging to a place, person, and group.
Because we are emotional beings, we need the opportunity to feel and express the full range of our emotions, from joy to sorrow, and everything in between.
Because we are creative beings, we need a place to express that specific creative part of ourselves, whether it be artistic, mechanical, mental, musical, sewing, or whatever our specific form of creative activity is.
Because we are volitional beings, we need a place to make meaningful choices for matters that affect our lives.
Because we are intellectual beings, we need space and time to think and have others around, with whom we can bounce off our ideas and questions.
Because we are physical, we need a place and sense of safety, and a way to properly take care of our bodies (exercises, healthy food, rest).
Because we are spiritual beings, we need time and space to contemplate the mysteries of life, and an opportunity to explore what faith means to us.
Because we are significant beings, we need a sense of purpose, that who I am—as this particular person called “me” and what I do in this world—matters.
Because we are integrated, we need a sense that all the various parts of our personality, background, and experience, work together in what we do and who we are.
In light of this, one of the most important factors in the development and health of refugee youth is a committed, consistent relationship with at least one adult who helps them in their process of self-discovery. Research shows that children and teenagers who have at least one mentor in their life become more resilient, improve their relationships with their peers, cultivate a drive for learning and achievement, and develop a more positive outlook on life.
Since launching our Youth Mentorship program in 2017, Refugee Care Collective has paired 105 resettled youth with mentors, to help them process their feelings and experiences, provide safe space for creativity and exploration, foster a sense of belonging and community, model hope and gratitude, encourage their perseverance in the face of difficulty, and celebrate their successes. Mentors have helped young people experience new things (going to the beach, playing in the snow, skateboarding, rock climbing, etc.), succeed academically, build friendships with their peers, prepare for job interviews, pass driving tests, and navigate college admissions.
One of the many examples we could share of the impact of our mentors involves an Afghan family approaching our staff about our mentorship programs. As we learned more about the family’s needs, we connected them with a team of mentors, including someone specifically to invest in their son. As the son’s mentor got to know his mentee, he learned about the young person’s entrepreneurial spirit and how he had already started three separate businesses before resettling in the United States. When they met, he was working at a department store and felt discouraged by his inability to pursue his own business ideas here. With his mentor to process his thoughts with, challenge him to persevere, and encourage his drive, the resettled youth is dreaming about a path to college and future career opportunities.
We truly are privileged to pair so many resettled youth with caring mentors committed to helping them adjust to life in the United States and see them thrive.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor to a junior high or high-school youth, fill out our Volunteer Form here.
And for more resources, check out the following articles and books:
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce D. Perry
What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey