This week the psychology department at my university held a symposium on the topic of Arab youth identity that focused on both challenges across cultures, as well as integration challenges in cultures that have substantial immigrant populations.
Dr. John Berry, a highly regarded and frequently cited intercultural psychologists, gave the keynote address as well as a lecture on cross-cultural and intercultural research methodology. There were also two days of panel speakers from Canada, United States, Lebanon, and Egypt who covered topics like youth civic engagement (only 2% of youth in Egypt volunteer in the community!), sexuality, how parents pass on memories to their children of historical events that they experienced (i.e. war), parental practices, resiliency, forgiveness, anxiety, substance abuse, immigration and mental illness, and more.
To me, and several other researchers, this seemed like a rather broad topic for a symposium, especially because studies on “Arab youth” from both across the Middle East as well as those who are now living in North America were included. The symposium closed with a panel of community organization representatives who talked about what kind of research they would find helpful in order to provide programming to this demographic. By that point it was apparent that youth across these different cultures are experiencing vastly different challenges. Though the symposium organizers hoped that the roundtable discussions would spark a collaborative research agenda among attendees, it was clear that each community will need to assess the needs of their own population as a starting point.
We did have a fruitful discussion about the challenges of reaching the population that we are trying to study. While conducting research on youth IN the Middle East is likely exponentially harder than it is in Canada and US, it is still a confusing challenge here as well. Youth are notoriously hard to convince to participate in research. Youth from a group that is more insular is even harder. It was disappointing that none of the student groups on campus were in attendance at the event, as their input would have been incredibly valuable. But it is also not at all surprising, and illustrative of the challenge that researchers face when reaching out to this group.
My personal research interests lie in immigrant adjustment in Canada, and my impression from the panels and the roundtable discussions was this: acculturation, or adjustment to a new culture, is a process that is experienced by both the immigrant and the mainstream individual that interacts with the immigrant. Research and programs have made substantive efforts to address both, by focusing on helping the immigrant integrate more smoothly, and by providing diversity training to individuals in the mainstream culture. Our efforts now need to focus on actually encouraging the two to interact in a productive way. Some organizations are beginning to make headway on that front, such as the ALLIES mentorship program that matches Canadian professionals with newcomer immigrant professionals. I have not heard of similar large-scale programming for youth, but I am sure something like it exists in various communities. For example, a project for which I am a research assistant, Engaging Girls, Changing Communities, just funded a youth-led initiative that will pair up Muslim young women with mentors who work in the community (so far United Way, the public library, and Rose City Islamic Center are on board) to help get them involved in the community, learn how to network, and meet professional women that they can talk to. It is my hope that we make a lasting contribution to this community and maybe set the stage for something that can be implemented more broadly.