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Making It in America: A Phenomenological Study of the Identity Reformation of Syrian Refugees Open Access

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With little preexisting religious, cultural and social ties, refugees undergo extreme circumstances and great struggle while thriving for a new beginning and new identity. This study examined the identity emergence, influencing social forces, social learning implications, and assimilating into a new cultural norms and values for Syrian refugees who successfully integrated into the U.S. culture. The study addressed one primary research question with three sub-questions: what is the experience of cultural identity emergence of Syrian refugees during the assimilation process? (a) What are some differences refugees see in the new identity from the old identity? (b) How do they learn to assimilate? (c) What factors enable them to assimilate? Despite the broad debate over how refugees assimilate into a new culture after a traumatic war, there has been a lack of academic literature pertaining to Syrian refugees’ identity reformation. While acknowledging the difference between positivist and interpretivist views, this study was designed to utilize qualitative inquiry with an interview-based phenomenological and naturalistic inquiry (Moustakas, 1994; Seidman, 2013) as a way to reveal the meaning of Syrian refugees’ lived experience of identity emergence. Using purposeful sampling, the researcher located 12 Syrian refugees, both men and women, from various ethnicities and religions, who arrived in the United States 3 to 5 years earlier. The study reached the following conclusions: (1) Social interaction is an essential stimulating element for Syrian refugees’ identity reformation, cultural resettlement, and assimilation. (2) Speaking and understanding English are critical for Syrian refugees to assimilate into U.S. culture. (3) Identity reformation for Syrian refugees is distinctively influenced through group membership and categorization. (4) Social learning spreads knowledge, inspires new cues, and improves communication and collaboration for Syrian refugees who successfully integrated. (5) Learning about the underlying structures of culture and making sense of it is crucial to refugees’ assimilation. The study concludes with implications for theory and practice, as well as recommendations for further research.

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