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The Road to Resilience: Part 2

How Immigrants Adapt with Support from our Counseling Center: Identity and Status Change

Written by Sonnie Mwangi, Mental Health Counselor & Christine Cummings, Director of Counseling Center

As we continue the series on how immigrants adapt to life in the U.S., we’d love to explore identity and status change. In addition to the basic environmental changes, many refugees and immigrants must cope with the fact that before they become anything in the U.S., they feel they must become “nothing.” They do not have the luxury to choose the job they want or do not want. Though they are safe from physical harm or other difficult situations in their home country now, they face a different part of the survival challenge: regaining their sense of personhood and purpose.

Some people have skills that are highly valuable and sought after in their countries but seem invalid or don’t transfer into the American context. For instance, a refugee who was a doctor in his home country must settle for something else or go through a painstaking process to regain his or her career in the U.S. An Afghan woman whose pride was in her homemaking skills must adjust to the reality that her husband’s income is likely not sufficient and she will need to work outside the home.

We are walking with one refugee named *Alejandro through this process. Alejandro recently shared feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed. He struggles to make ends meet constantly thinking about the bills that need to be paid with a paycheck that barely allows for margin. There is no time or space to pursue his goals of further education and a fulfilling career. Through counseling, he is learning to understand that adjustment takes time. Together with his counselor, they examined his journey through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and he was able to identify that he is in a stage where he is focused on stabilizing his life by ensuring his family’s basic needs for safety, shelter, and food. But there is growth happening, as he is also dedicating himself to learning English.

Once these fundamental needs are addressed, he’ll have the capacity to pursue higher aspirations like returning to school and exploring new career paths. Alejandro expressed a profound sense of relief, thanking his counselor for fostering kindness and patience within himself throughout this process.

Moments like these happen because of the support through foundations and individual donors. As you continue to read about how change affects the lives of refugees and other immigrants in our final part of the series, please consider a donation today to support these change processes.

*names changed for privacy

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