Cultural orientation of refugees

Material Information

Cultural orientation of refugees facilitating the successful acculturation of Denver's refugee population
Verbeek, Rachel
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
viii, 100 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Social Science)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Social Sciences
Committee Chair:
Everett, Jana
Committee Co-Chair:
Fink, Virginia
Committee Members:
Yoder, E.J.


Subjects / Keywords:
Refugees -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Acculturation -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Acculturation ( fast )
Refugees ( fast )
Colorado -- Denver ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 95-100).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Rachel Verbeek.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
318794315 ( OCLC )
LD1193.L65 2008m V47 ( lcc )

Full Text
Rachel Verbeek
B.A., University of Nebraska Lincoln, 2002
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science

Thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Rachel Verbeek
has been approved
' Date

Verbeek, Rachel (Master of Social Science)
Cultural Orientation of Refugees: Facilitating the Successful
Acculturation of Denvers Refugee Population
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This study looks at how refugee populations are acculturating within
their new environments. This research project is an attempt to analyze
the importance of cultural orientation programs to the acculturation
process of refugees in the Denver community. This study reviews the
research relevant in the refugee resettlement field and presents
theories relating to acculturation and its relation to refugees. A survey
conducted of selected refugee service providers in the Denver metro
area is included in this study. The conclusions are used to analyze the
types of orientation programs occurring for refugees in the Denver
area, how these programs address issues of acculturation, and what
steps should be taken in the future to improve orientation for refugees.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates
thesis. I recommend its publication.
Jana Everett

Many thanks to my advisor, Jana Everett, for her contributions,
guidance, and patience regarding my thesis. I would also like to thank
my two other committee members, Virginia Fink and E.J. Yoder, for
taking time out of their busy schedules to lend their insights to my

1. INTRODUCTION........................................l
Research Question...................................3
Purpose of Thesis...................................5
Methods Used.....................................6
Summary of Thesis...................................8
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE...........................10
Cultural Orientation...............................19
3. ACCULTURATION......................................27
Acculturation Theory...............................29
Fourfold Theory.................................32
Bidimensional Models and Public Policy..........37
Critique of Acculturation Theory...................44

Acculturation Case Studies............................46
Refugee Orientation...................................54
Success and Challenges................................69
5. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION................................78
Agency Level Analysis.................................79
Problems and Challenges.............................79
Suggestions and Solutions...........................80
Government Level Analysis.............................83
Problems and Challenges.............................83
Suggestions and Solutions...........................84
Integration of Refugees and the Host Community........86
Problems and Challenges.............................86
Suggestions and Solutions...........................87
A. Informed Consent...................................91
B. Refugee Service Provider
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- vii -

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Today there is a worldwide refugee crisis with over 15 million
people displaced from their homes (UNHCR Statistical Online Population
Database). Each year the United States of America resettles tens of
thousands of refugees throughout the country (U.S. Department of State:
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration). Once admitted to the
United States, refugees are distributed throughout the country and faced
with the task of acclimating to a new and foreign environment. The success
of this process differs greatly among groups and individuals. This thesis
will use the refugee definition found in Article I of the 1951 United Nations
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees:
A person who is outside of his or her country of nationality
or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution
because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership
of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable
or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of
that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.
Cultural orientation refers to the education provided to refugees to
assist them with this resettlement process and may take place before or
after refugees arrive in a host community. According to the Center for
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Applied Linguistics the purpose of cultural orientation is to help refugees
acquire the information and skills necessary to gradually adapt to a new
society and incorporate elements of American culture into their
own system of values and beliefs (qtd. in Bebic and Costello 2006, 1).
Cultural orientation programs are developed to aid in the acculturation of
refugees into their new environments, but there is no standard cultural
orientation program used by all the voluntary agencies within the
resettlement field to address the needs of this growing number of people.
One of the ways to look at the importance cultural orientation plays
as refugees adapt to their new environment is to examine the concept of
acculturation as it relates to refugees and orientation. This thesis will use
the Bourhis et al. (1997) definition of acculturation as the process of
bidirectional change that takes place when two ethno cultural groups come
into contact with one another (370). Acculturation theory examines how
varying levels of contact affect minority and dominant groups.
Acculturation studies have been conducted in numerous fields and provide
a way of looking at the process refugees undergo as they are introduced to
a foreign environment (Rudmin, Critical 2003).
This research project is an attempt to analyze the importance of
cultural orientation programs to the acculturation process of refugees.

This thesis will provide an introduction to refugees and the resettlement
process through a review of relevant research that has previously been
conducted regarding refugee resettlement and cultural orientation. This
thesis will then present a detailed description of acculturation theory, how
it has developed, and how it relates to the process refugees undertake as
they attempt to become accustomed to their new environments. Interviews
with a selection of refugee resettlement, education, and assistance
organizations will be conducted to determine the types of cultural
orientation programs occurring in Denver, how these programs are
addressing issues of acculturation, what successes the organizations
achieve, and what challenges do they encounter regarding this process.
This study will conclude with an analysis of how acculturation theory is
impacting cultural orientation programs in Denver and will put forth
recommendations to improve the acculturation process through cultural
orientation programs.
Research Question
Regardless of where in the United States refugees may be resettled,
they will inevitably come into contact with a host community and culture
vastly different from their own. When looking at how refugees acculturate
within their new environment, it is important to look to the host

community as well as the refugee community. The host community or
dominant culture encompasses those people inhabiting the area in which
the refugees settle. Bourhis et al. (1997) define the host community as
made up of a single dominant majority sharing a common ancestral
language and culture (372). The host community generally defines the
norms, practices and common culture with which a society is governed
and to which a refugee must successfully acculturate to in order to
function well within their new environment. This may also include
indigenous ethno-cultural minorities and second or third generation
immigrants that have been integrated into the host community at some
point in its history. It is important to keep in mind that there is no one
homogenous host community; it is made of varying norms, practices, and
cultures pulled from many different facets. In this study the host
community consists of the residents of the Denver metropolitan area.
What programs are in place to aide the refugee populations as they
come into contact with this new environment and how do they address the
process of acculturation? This thesis attempts to answer this question by
examining three orientation programs in Denver and analyzing how these
programs address the integration process of refugees. Regardless of the
complexities present in a host community, life is certain to be vastly

different from the previous life of a refugee. An important role of a refugee
assistance agency is the education of refugees about the host community
through cultural orientation programs. To what extent do the cultural
orientation programs follow the tenets of acculturation theory? This thesis
will examine the cultural orientation programs of refugee assistance
agencies in Denver from the perspective of acculturation theory.
Purpose of Thesis
Many of the refugee voluntary agencies in Denver are currently
attempting to develop relevant cultural orientation curricula. This thesis is
a sincere attempt to provide pertinent information to assist in developing
these curricula and subsequently in providing the greatest possible
support to the Denver refugee community in their pursuit of acculturating
to their new environment.
The goal of this study is to contribute to the advancement of
knowledge, but also to understand what is going on. Who are these
refugees and how are they acculturating to their new environments? What
are their successes and challenges and what assistance are refugees
receiving in this process? What is working, what is failing, and what more
can be done to assist in this process? Before change can be effected, the
current situation needs to be understood.

Methods Used
I focused this research study on the importance of acculturation as
integration, emphasizing the importance of retaining and celebrating the
minority refugee culture while incorporating the necessary and beneficial
aspects of the dominant culture. I selected three agencies for examination
and I conducted interviews with agency spokespersons. I focused on
agencies that offer a wide range of services as opposed to agencies that
only focus on one area. I incorporated a mixture of refugee
resettlement/voluntary agencies and refugee service providers all located
in the Denver area. The former are the voluntary agencies to which
refugees are assigned as they arrive in the United States and are
responsible for all the initial resettlement and placement (R&P) services
that a refugee is entitled to. The latter do not handle R&P services but
provide other services to refugees to assist with acculturation: such as ESL,
job training, and trauma counseling. I chose to interview spokespersons
from agencies from both areas in order to gain a broad picture of the
orientation services that are available to assist refugees in the Denver area.
It is important to remember that these three agencies are not necessarily
representative of all the agencies providing services to refugees in Denver

and so caution must be taken regarding making generalizations based
solely on the views of these three agencies.
The questions presented to these organizations were open-ended
and covered observations on what cultural orientation services they
provide to refugees to assist in the acculturation process, how they
measure acculturation, the attitudes of the refugee and host communities
regarding acculturation, the challenges and successes, and what more is
needed. The data acquired from the interview process will be presented in
this thesis via descriptive narrative.
It is important to have an established ethical plan in place to respect
the participating agencies as well as the outcome of the study. Each agency
was provided with an account of the design and purpose of this thesis and
was free to address any concerns or questions they had. An informed
consent form was presented including a promise of anonymity in the final
thesis. It was important to emphasize that this study is intended to provide
the best possible acculturation and cultural orientation service to refugees
and to discover what assistance volunteer agencies require to best provide
these services. Interviews were set up according to the comfort level and
convenience of each participating agency; each interview was conducted in

person. It was emphasized that participation in this study was on a
voluntary basis and could be halted at any point at which the participant
no longer wished to continue.
Summary of Thesis
Chapter two of this thesis will provide a review of related literature.
This literature review will encompass two main areas. First, there will be a
detailed description of the modern refugee crisis including who is
considered a refugee and why, how the current infrastructure and laws
regarding refugees came to be, and what types of research regarding
refugees have occurred up to this point. There will then be an overview of
the history, evolution, successes and challenges associated with the
cultural orientation of refugee populations.
Following the literature review, a detailed discussion on the concept
and development of acculturation theory in will be presented in chapter
three. The theories associated with acculturation are a vital foundation
required to understand the physical and emotional process that refugees
undergo as they navigate a new environment. This thesis will then present
a selection of research and case studies that have been published regarding
refugees and acculturation.

Chapter four will present the interviews conducted with three of the
refugee agencies in the Denver community. The questions discussed in
these interviews will address orientation programs available to refugees in
Denver, how these agencies and the programs they provide address the
issues of integration, and the successes and challenges each agency faces.
Chapter five will provide findings and conclusions. This thesis will
look at what was learned from the previous literature and the interviews
with the Denver agencies and what steps should be taken in the future.

This chapter examines the literature on refugees in the U.S. and on
cultural orientation programs for refugees. First and foremost, who is a
refugee and more specifically what is the recent history in the United
States regarding refugees; what are the patterns and demographics of
those refugees that have come to the U.S. and what is the evolution of
legislation regarding refugees in the U.S. Second, this literature review will
look at cultural orientation. The central question of this study is what
types of cultural orientation programs are occurring in Denver and how do
they address the acculturation concerns of refugees. In order to answer
that question we must first understand what cultural orientation entails
and how has it evolved since its inception. By looking at the history and
progression of these concepts and the research associated with them, we
obtain a better understanding of the acculturation process of refugees, the
place cultural orientation occupies today, and how it should progress in
the future. History helps us to understand contemporary research, to
criticize it, and hopefully to make useful corrections (Rudmin Critical
2003, 9). This information will be presented by looking to scholars who

have conducted research relating to these specific areas of refugees and
cultural orientation.
As of 2007, there are over 15 million refugees in the world; almost
50,000 of the 75,300 refugees that were resettled to third party countries
in 2007 were resettled in the United States ("UNHCR Statistical Online
Population Database"). The United States has a long history of taking in
refugees. Understanding the history of the relationship between refugees
and the U.S. is critical to understanding the progress and shortcomings of
that relationship, how refugees are acculturating, what is/has been done to
assist them, the challenges they face, and what they need to succeed within
their new environment. What follows is a description of the history of
American immigration and refugees primarily based on the research of
D.W. Haines (Refugees in the United States 1985).
Early U.S. law failed to distinguish between immigrants and
refugees. As all were allowed entry, this lack of distinction was not a
problem until immigration became restricted in the 1920s, closing
Americas doors to most immigrants and refugees. According to Haines,
(1985) this led to an especially bleak period in the years preceding WWII,
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as Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were often denied entry into the
United States.
Following WWII many changes took place regarding refugees, both
domestically and internationally. In 1950 the United Nations General
Assembly created the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR). This agency was developed to protect the rights and
well-being of refugees and manage all international action relating to
refugees. The UNHCR works to guarantee that all have the right to request
asylum and refuge in another state; ensure that refugees will not be
returned involuntarily to a country where they will face persecution;
repatriate refugees to their homeland if they so desire and it is safe; assist
states and refugees with the integration process; and enable the countless
organizations and governments to provide at least a minimum of shelter,
food, water and medical care in the immediate aftermath of any refugee
exodus (UNHCR). This mission is carried out through the 1951
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This is the key legal
document which not only defines who is a refugee, but presents their
rights and the legal obligations of states regarding refugees. The 1967
Protocol was added which removed geographical and temporal
restrictions from the 1951 Convention (UNHCR).
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While the UNHCR is the guiding international force regarding
refugees, many states have developed their own legal framework to
address issues relating to refugees within their borders. Following WWII,
U.S. legislation was enacted that distinguished refugees from immigrants.
The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 were
instituted to address the vast number of displaced person from Europe
following WWII and people fleeing the Communist governments of
Eastern Europe in the 1950s (Library Index). Haines (1985) presents the
three essential aspects of U.S. refugee policy that were developed during
this initial post war period: the distinction was established between
refugees and immigrants; political refugees from Communist countries
dominated admission; and the private sector became relied upon to
support refugees with regards to acculturation and adjustment, as the
government provided no domestic assistance programs (4). Refugees were
not granted admission unless someone assumed responsibility for them,
ensuring they would not become dependent on the state.
The lack of government assistance beyond entry, processing, and
transportation remained the theme throughout the 1950s. Voluntary
agencies continued to bear the bulk of the financial costs related refugee
resettlement. While the federal government did provide $40 for the
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transportation of refugees to their final destination, it was quick to point
out that this did not constitute a precedent for giving payment to the
voluntary agencies for similar costs for other refugee movements (qtd. in
Haines 1985, 4). Lack of government involvement began to change in the
late 1950s as Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, bringing a new wave of
refugees to the U.S. The federal government soon realized this group of
refugees was different than any previously dealt with and subsequently
increased its involvement in the resettlement process. The Cuban refugees
constituted a larger group of refugees and came directly to U.S. shores,
both due to their close proximity to the U.S. As Haines (1985) discusses,
the Cuban refugees settled primarily in the Miami area and had previous
contacts there; this placed a large burden on a small area of the country. In
December of i960 the Cuban Refugee Center opened in Miami.
Government agencies were brought in to assess the Cuban refugee
situation which led to the development of the Migration and Refugee
Assistance Act of 1962. This legislation guided the U.S. refugee program
for many years. Not only did it cover the continued support of the Cuban
Refuge Program, it laid out the framework for U.S. involvement in
international refugee relief efforts. In addition, the federal government

assumed the responsibility of reimbursing state and local governments
and agencies for expenses relating to refugee assistance.
By the mid-i970s the number of Cuban refugees arriving in the
U.S. had decreased substantially; however, tensions in Southeast Asia led
to the influx of a Southeast Asian refugee group not previously seen in the
United States. The Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act was
enacted to mirror the 1962 Act. These refugees were the largest group of
the era and remained so from 1975 through the mid 1980s. According to
Haines (1985), Soviet Jews also constituted a large number of refugees at
this time. During this period, legislation and programming remained
population specific.
The Refugee Act of 1980 was created which incorporated the United
Nations definition of a refugee into its wording. Despite the fact that the
U.S. signed the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which
incorporated the 1951 Refugee Conventions definition of a refugee, this
definition had not previously been included within U.S. legislation
(American Immigration Law Center). Haines (1985) presents the four
main provisions this law established: first, a single program of post-arrival
assistance for refugees was established; second, an annual consultation
between Congress and the administration was set up to discuss
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admissions; third, this law set goals for the resettlement effort of refugees
in the U.S.; finally, this legislation made changes to existing management,
programs, and admissions (5). A surge of Cuban refugees in 1980 and
Southeast Asian refugees in 1981 and 1982 placed challenges on this
legislation. By the mid 1980s the flow of refugees from Cuba and
Southeast Asia was decreasing, leading to increasing visibility of smaller
refugee populations, specifically those from the Communist nations of
Eastern Europe.
Throughout the 1990s the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
shifted its focus from the large refugee admissions programs that
developed during the Cold War to smaller more diverse groups seeking
asylum for many reasons including religious beliefs, war, and ethnic
tensions (American Immigration Law Center). According to Bebic et al.,
(2006) admissions in the 1990s were dominated by refugees from Africa,
the Middle East, Central Asia, and the former Yugoslavia (I-3).
U.S. refugee law in the 21st century saw many changes. In the wake
of 9/11 new legislation was implemented which negatively impacted
refugee admissions. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996 (AEDPA) came into being prior to 9/11, but the Intelligence Reform
and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the REAL ID Act of 2005, and the

USA Patriot Act of 2001 were enacted in response to the fear and threat
created by 9/11 (Sridharan and Council on Foreign Relations 2008). This
legislation incorporated a ban on those having provided material
support to terrorist organizations, defined in Title 18 U.S. Code, Sec. 2339
(T)he provision of any property, tangible or intangible, or service,
including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities,
financial services, lodging, training, expert advise or assistance, safe
houses, false documentation or identification, communications
equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives,
personnel, transportation, and other physical assets, except
medicine or religious materials to terrorist organizations...
This legislation has affected refugees hoping to flee to the U.S., many of
whom have had petitions for asylum rejected or put on hold indefinitely; it
has also affected refugees in the U.S. attempting to apply for permanent
residency or bring family members here seeking asylum. The material
support ban fails to distinguish between support given voluntarily or
under duress. Some of the refugee groups affected by the material support
ban have been the Burmese, Colombians, Liberians, Cubans, Hmong, and
child soldiers. In 2006 steps were initiated to address the difficulties
related to this legislation. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security,
in conjunction with the Attorney General, can now waive the restriction
for individuals or specific groups (Church World Service 2006). The
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Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 farther increased these waivers
and addressed specific groups (Human Rights First 2008).
The Refugee Act of 1980 provides the legal basis for todays Refugee
Admissions Program which is administered by offices within the
Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and
the Department of Homeland Security (Refugee Council USA). Today, the
numbers of refugees being admitted to the U.S. are increasing from post-
9/11 numbers but have yet to reach the pre-9/11 quotas or the annual
ceiling set by the government. As Haines (1985) discusses, the fiscal year
refugee admission quotas are jointly set by the administration and
Congress, in collaboration with the above agencies. The demographics of
arriving refugees change annually due to decisions made regarding these
quotas in conjunction with events taking place around the world.
This is the umbrella history of refugee programming and legislation
in the U.S. according to Haines (1985), but the role of state and local
government and voluntary agencies must be examined as well. The state
and local governments, led by the state refugee coordinator, are expected
to take the central role regarding refugee resettlement once refugees are in
the United States. Funds are allocated from the federal to state
governments who then distribute funds to the voluntary agencies to

provide initial resettlement assistance and social services to refugees. With
the various roles of federal, state, and local governments and voluntary
agencies, it is easy to see how a lack of centrality, consistency, and
accountability could be a concern with regards to funding, development,
and providing the most efficient and useful assistance to the refugee
There is an extensive body of research available regarding refugees;
however, the research often focuses on specific groups as opposed to
looking at issues affecting refugees generally. Stein (2008) presents the
discussion among some researchers that there is a refugee experience and
that this experience produces what we call refugee behavior. Many
scholars and governments disagree with this position and see refugee
problems as isolated and atypical, leading to the majority of refugee
research to be conducted on specific groups as opposed to building a
cumulative body of research. A majority of case studies have centered on
the Cuban and Southeast Asian refugee populations and will be presented
in Chapter 3 after looking at the acculturation of refugees.
Cultural Orientation
The study of cultural orientation has a long and varied history.
Bebic et al. (2006) discuss how early studies described the history of
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cultural orientation and acculturation as a process that was led by ones
family, friends, and ethnic community. This can be seen from the earliest
immigrants in the United States to the waves of Cuban refugees arriving in
the late 1950s. While this often remains true, the last thirty years has seen
cultural orientation of refugees emerge as its own field. The influx of
Southeast Asian refugees in the mid 1970s made it clear that the U.S. was
dealing with a group of refugees with no pre-existing community to guide
them. The Center for Applied Linguistics provides a detailed history of
modern cultural orientation from its inception in the mid-i97os to the
present day. Initial waves of Southeast Asian refugees were often more
educated and found adapting easier; however, as successive waves of
refugees poured into the United States, the need for cultural orientation
became more evident. Later waves were often less educated and less
familiar with U.S. culture, laws, and daily life. There was a need to develop
cultural orientation programs to provide knowledge but also to build
skills and promote attitudes that would ease refugees adaptation to U.S.
society (Bebic et al. 2006,1-2). Following the passage of the 1980 Refugee
Act, programs developed domestically and abroad. In Southeast Asia, a 6-
month program was developed combining ESL, cultural orientation, and
work orientation which lasted for 15 years and trained over 500,000

refugees (Bebic et al. 2006, I-2). Subsequent programs focused on
children, adolescents, and women.
Since the mid 1990s, the Center for Applied Linguistics has seen
the groups of refugees change to smaller, more diverse groups. Cultural
orientation funding has decreased both domestically and abroad. Most
overseas cultural orientation has been reduced to a three-day, pre-
departure cultural orientation (which is neither mandatory or uniform),
while domestic cultural orientation programs are most often not taking
place beyond the mandatory initial orientation services required within
the first 72 hours of arrival (Bebic et al. 2006).
The U.S. Department of States Bureau of Population, Refugees, and
Migration funds both the pre- and post-arrival orientation for refugees.
Reception and Placement (R&P) is the initial core service provided to
newly arriving refugees in the U.S and covers: sponsorship and pre-arrival
planning; the provision of basic needs support (housing, furniture, food,
and clothing) for at least 30 days after the refugees arrival; community
orientation; referral to social service providers (including health care, ESL,
and employment); and case management for 90 days (Bebic and Costello
2006, 2). Refugees are assigned to a voluntary resettlement agency
(VOLAG), in charge of allocating funds to provide the above services.
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Because 90 days is the time period in which these initial R&P funds are
available, cultural orientation is often short, as it is only one of many
services for which these funds need to be utilized. Initial orientation,
usually within 24 hours of refugees arrival, ranges from 30 minutes to 2
hours, with ongoing assessment and questions occurring as needed (Bebic
and Costello 2006, 2).
Once initial funds are no longer available, voluntary agencies must
find money from other areas such as grants, donations, and volunteer
services if they want to provide cultural orientation. Throughout the
1990s many local agencies utilized grants from the Office of Refugee
Resettlement (ORR); however, since 2002, orientation is no longer
accessible as a funding category (Costello 2004, 3). Refugees may also
utilize other community-based organizations to acquire cultural
orientation; these programs are most often in the form of ESL, mental
health counseling, and job training instruction, which are more
According to Bebic et al. (2006) cultural orientation, both
domestically and abroad, covers the same basic categories: the role of the
resettlement agency, housing, employment, community services,
transportation, education, health, money management, rights and

responsibilities, and cultural adjustment (I-12, 13, 14). While there is
consistency regarding the topics covered, the level and depth of cultural
orientation provided to refugees varies among states, localities, and
agencies. Bebic et al. (2006) have found that some agencies do provide
more extensive cultural orientation; however, most agencies can only
provide short programs due to lack of funds, time, and staff. The most vital
information must be conveyed to each refugee within 72 hours of arrival,
such as housing and personal safety. The rest of the information should be
conveyed within 30 days of arrival, but can occur for up to a year on an as-
needed basis.
Cultural orientation is most often conducted by case managers;
however, ESL instructors, employment counselors, and volunteers take on
that role as well. Ideally, a voluntary agency would have designated
cultural orientation instructors; however, this rarely happens due to the
constraints previously mentioned. The language in which cultural
orientation occurs varies and is contingent upon available resources.
Cultural orientation can be conducted in the refugees native language or
second language if an agency is lucky enough to employ former refugees or
immigrants that speak these languages. The most common language of
instruction is English, with an interpreter if possible, pictures,
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demonstrations, and/or acting out lessons. Many agencies hire refugees
and immigrants to translate cultural orientation information to new
clients, providing the interpreter with income and creating a link between
new refugees and those who have been in the U.S. for awhile with
experiences and advice to share (Bebic et al. 20063,1-8, 9).
Costello (2004) presents the Center for Applied Linguistics survey
of 41 resettlement agencies (approximately 10% of agencies providing
refugee cultural orientation in the U.S.). This survey was conducted in
response to the significant lack of data regarding cultural orientation
programs; in the 25 years since the U.S. government has been funding
refugee orientation programs no studies have been done to assess the
successes, failures, practices, or progress of these programs.
Approximately 56% surveyed use the R&P model, employing the minimum
standards and funding available by the Resettlement and Placement
program (4). These agencies have only the most standard services
available, usually conducted by the case manager on an individual, as-
needed basis. The R&P+ model occurs about 23% of the time (4). This
model mainly utilizes the case managers for orientation, but they take a
more structured approach with longer orientation and incorporate a
variety of instructors and curricula. The final model is the Workshop

model, occurring 21% of the time (5). Orientation occurs through a
classroom model, integrating several programs such as ESL and
employment. Agencies using this model seek funding beyond the initial
R&P funds. Costello (2004) presents common reasons why agencies
practice one model over another. Agencies that receive more funding tend
to develop in-depth, structured cultural orientation. Belief in a chosen
models effectiveness plays a huge part in how an agency conducts cultural
orientation, even more so than available resources.
The second part of Costellos study looks at the qualities which are
seen as effective in refugee resettlement. The study found motivation, a
positive outlook, openness to new things, flexibility, and patience to be
the top attributes that lead to successful acculturation (Costello 2004, 5)-
A proactive nature, participating in the community, attending ESL, and
asking questions were also seen as highly effective in the successful
orientation of refugees. This survey provides a foundation for the study of
cultural orientation that did not exist previously.
The goal of this thesis is to build on this foundation and determine
how the cultural orientation programs available in Denver address the
acculturation challenges faced by the refugee population. The following
chapter will present an in-depth look at the development and process of

acculturation in order to better understand its relationship to cultural
orientation and refugees.

All people around the world experience acculturation; it is
inescapable. While some experience minor or gradual acculturation,
others are thrust into a new culture, forcing them to acculturate quickly in
order to survive. The worlds refugee population is in a constant state of
acculturation. Not only are they forced from their homes for a myriad of
reasons, but they must then resettle, sometimes several times, in a new
state that is often very different from anything they have ever known. As
discussed by Colic-Peisker and Walker (2003), refugees are seeking to
reconstruct their identity and acculturation theory provides a strong
platform for exploring this process (337). Acculturation theory examines
the social patterns and relationships within society and the intercultural
identities developed by the parties involved, the dominant (host) and
minority (refugee) (Wichert 1996). Acculturation theory is a useful tool
regarding refugee research because it incorporates both the refugee and
host communities; this is crucial to refugee research because the host
community determines the norms of society and sets the tone of
acceptance. The process of a refugee adapting to a new culture is wholly a
process of social interaction.

This thesis is utilizing the definition of acculturation by Bourhis et
al. (1997) as a process of bidirectional change that takes place when two
ethno cultural groups come into contact with one another (370).
Supplementing Bourhis et al. in this thesis are two well respected
definitions, one by Redfield et al. (1936) as those phenomena that result
when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous
first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture
patterns of either or both groups, (149) and Berry as the process by
which individuals change, both by being influenced by contact with
another culture and by being participants in the general acculturative
changes under way in their own culture (qtd. in Bourhis et al. 1997, 370).
There are many definitions of acculturation, as it is a concept that has been
studied throughout history; however, these definitions provide a
comprehensive foundation from which to understand acculturation as it
relates to refugees.
Much acculturation research, specifically the research referenced in
this thesis, has focused on immigrants. This is a useful reference point
when looking at the acculturation of refugees as they share many
similarities with immigrants; however, it is important to acknowledge the

differences as they are profound and make refugees a unique group to be
studied in their own right. As discussed by Canniff (2001), anthropologists
have used the push-pull theory to distinguish between immigrants and
refugees; while refugees are pushed from their homes by any number of
factors, immigrants are generally pulled from their homes in search of
better opportunities. In most cases, refugees would prefer to stay in their
homeland, and so due to the belief that they will eventually be able to
return, they are often more resistant to acculturation. In this chapter, a
brief history the development and progression of modern acculturation
theories will be provided, specifically of acculturation theory as it relates to
refugees, as well as some case studies focusing on the acculturation of
refugees and immigrants.
Acculturation Theory
The concept of acculturation has been present as far back as 2370
B.C. (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 9). The modern definitions and theories
associated with acculturation took root in the late i8oos; acculturation
was first defined by J.W. Powell regarding the changes that had occurred
in Native American languages (Rudmin, Catalogue 2003). Subsequently,
acculturation studies developed as sociologists, psychologists,

anthropologists, linguists and others began to study how dominant and
minority cultures reacted to each other.
Modern acculturation theory developed in large part from the mass
immigration to the U.S. in the late 19th century and early 20th century. In
1918, Thomas and Znaniecki presented The Polish Peasant, considered the
first full psychological theory of acculturation (Rudmin, Catalogue
2003). Thomas and Znaniecki (1996) studied Polish immigrants in
Chicago; the research was conducted in the U.S. and Europe to determine
the relationship cultural norms from home had on the adjustment or
maladjustment of immigrants in America (xi). This study provided a
foundation for future ethnic group studies. In his introduction to the 1996
edition of The Polish Peasant. Zaretsky presents this book as the most
important influence on social science for decades, one of the founding
works within sociology, and as introducing social history as a field of study
(ix). The psychologist Bartlett took his studies even further arguing that
the attitudes of the minority towards the dominant culture are
particularly important (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 11). Early acculturation
studies focused on the effect the minority culture had on the dominant
culture and the hostile conditions in which acculturation took place. After

the research of Thomas, Znaniecki, and Bartlett, researchers looked also to
how the minority group was acculturating to the dominant group, how
minority attitudes affected the acculturation process, and the pathologies
minorities experienced as a result of acculturation (Rudmin, Critical
2003). Rudmin (2003) points out that many researchers have since
discussed that some types of acculturation are psychologically or socially
beneficial, and others are problematic or pathological (Critical 12).
As acculturation research continued on this path throughout the
20th century, the vocabulary and concepts associated with it progressed.
Thomas and Znaniecki conceptualized three manifestations of
acculturation through their studies: Bohemian-type, Philistine-type, and
Creative-type. The Bohemian-type personality gave up the minority
culture and adopted the new dominant culture. The Philistine-type
personality was seen to retain the traditional minority culture and reject
the new and dominant culture. The Creative-type personality was able to
maintain their traditional minority culture but modified it in order to
adapt to the new and dominant culture (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 11).
These terms and concepts were used, reused, and renamed throughout the
1900s by countless researchers. Melting pot, hybrid, chauvinism,
-31 -

survivors, and mimicry are just a few of the concepts used to describe the
different manifestations of acculturation that researchers have observed
over the years.
The Fourfold Theory
Regardless of the terms used to describe the types of acculturation
that have been observed, they have consistently boiled down to four main
types. The terms associated with these four types reached consistency in
1984 through the work of Berry and associates. Berrys research continued
to emphasize the importance of minority group attitudes and how that in
turn affects the four main manifestations of acculturation: minority
culture retained (+M) or lost (-M), and dominant culture accepted (+D) or
rejected (-D). Since Berry, these four types of acculturation are now
commonly known as: assimilation (-M +D), separation (+M -D),
integration (+M +D), and marginalization (-M -D) (Rudmin, Catalogue
2003). This consistency was born as Berry and associates developed the
Fourfold Theory in the 1970s. The idea is that a person can appreciate,
practice, or identity with two different cultures independently of one
another (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 3). Berry asked various yes or no
questions meant to solicit responses that break down into one of these four
types of acculturation meant to cover all possibilities; the type of

acculturation depends on the subject and the questions being asked.
Whether discussing education, immigration, language, or refugees these
four types remain consistent (Gudykunst and Kim 1988, 63).
Researchers utilizing the Fourfold Theory ask Likert-scale
questions about cultural attitudes, identities, or practices, as well as
questions about distress, psychopathology, life satisfaction, and other
matters of adaptation (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 4). These questions are
asked to determine the dispersion of the four types of acculturation among
the group being studied, and the relationship between the measures of
acculturation and the measures of adaptation.
Minority Culture
+M -M
Yes No
+D +M +D -M +D
Yes Yes, Yes No, Yes
(integration) (assimilation)
-D +M -D -M -D
No Yes, No No, No
(separation) (marginalization)
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The end goal of fourfold acculturation theory is generally to obtain
support for integration as the most positive and successful type of
acculturation. Integration is the type of acculturation that this thesis will
focus on. Integration, also known as biculturalism, is the melding of both
the minority and dominant cultures. Integration emphasizes the
importance of learning the new and dominant culture and adopting
aspects of it, yet retaining the traditional, minority culture. According to
Canniff, (2001) the premise is that the immigrant who remains grounded
in his culture and its values is consistently the most successful in
economic, social, and educational settings (xv).
Isaac Berkson (1920) used the terms melting pot and
community in reference to the acculturation type now known as
integration. The melting pot mode of acculturation that Berkson
presents welcomes the contributions that the new racial strains make to
American life and looks with favor upon the addition of new cultural
elements (73). According to Berkson, (1920) the melting pot theory:
(U)nderstands that a loyalty is not to be built upon a disloyalty. To
make a good American is a positive task; it does not mean to make a
bad Italian. It is apprehensive of lack of culture much more than it
is of a diversified culture, and is, therefore, not so quick to condemn

the old heritage which an immigrant brings with him. It tries rather
to preserve the old while the new is being formed. (75)
The community mode of acculturation that Berkson preferred
emphasized the importance of minorities participating in the economic,
political, and social life of the broader community yet in private retaining
the traditions of their minority culture, specifically through family and
education (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 20). Berkson (1920) illustrated this
concept of community through the Jewish ethnic group as living in no
one isolated locality... con tribute in whatever way they can to the
development of America, in all phases, economic, political, and cultural
yet at the same time having their own communal life organized with a
view to the preservation of that which is essential to the life of the Jewish
people (102).
While Berksons community and melting pot theories share
many important and admirable qualities, they do differ. The community
theory promotes the integration of the minority and dominant cultures. It
emphasizes the importance of maintaining the traditions of the minority,
especially in the private sector. The melting pot theory emphasizes the
importance of contributions by the dominant and minority cultures, not to
adapt to the typical American, but to create a more humane civilization

out of the medley of cultures, putting ones culture into the pot to create
something superior for the future. Berkson favored the community
theory (Rudmin, Catalogue 2003). Although community and melting
pot may each have one meaning in the eyes of Berkson, (1920) the
historical interpretations have varied. Berksons interpretation of melting
pot welcomes the contributions of minority groups, emphasizes pride and
retention of the minorities past and traditions, and celebrates the dynamic
nature of society (75). However, throughout modern history, the concept
of the melting pot has often had a negative connotation, referring to
assimilation of minority cultures and assuming that immigrants and
cultural minorities will be assimilated into the U.S. majority culture, losing
their original cultures (Martin and Nakayama 2007,19). Since this thesis
is focused on the importance of integration as the most desired mode of
acculturation, Berksons concept of melting pot is referenced as opposed
to the concept of melting pot as assimilation. While community and
melting pot have their differences and different interpretations, the
essence of each from Berksons point of view is similar; the concepts
represent a celebration and recognition of diverse cultures coming
together as the best option for society.

Berkson (1920) discusses the assumption that there is an easily
identifiable, widespread typical American which has facilitated the belief
that a stamping out of foreign characteristics would of itself make a
person an American (74-75). The assumption that there is a typical
American reads as true in our modern world of 2008 as it did in 1920.
The idea of community and/or melting pot that Berkson presents
addresses that incorrect assumption. Berksons research fits well with the
research of Thomas and Znaniecki. Their purpose was to persuade people
that Polish immigrants were not simply becoming American; they were
becoming something much more unique, Polish-Americans. Thomas and
Znaniecki (1996) state, They dont simply repeat the culture they shared
in Poland but change it so it becomes serviceable in the American context
(105). The ideas of these researchers resonate well when discussing the
integration of refugees and the host community: a celebration of what
refugees can bring to the host culture and what the host culture can bring
to the refugee population.
Bidimensional Models and State Policies
The unidimensional assimilation model was proposed by Gordon in
1964 and described immigrant acculturation as taking place along a
continuum. The beginning of this continuum consists of maintaining the

immigrant or minority culture, by the end of the continuum the adoption
of the host culture has taken place, often with the complete loss of the
minority culture. The middle of this continuum consists of the transition
phase known as biculturalism or integration; here the immigrant has still
retained some of the minority culture while also adopting aspects of the
dominant culture. The unidimensional model works from the premise that
a complete transition to the customs and values of the host culture is
inevitable (Pham and Harris 2001). This model favors the dominant
group, and any problems are seen as being due to the individual minority
person, who is often relegated to a lower level in society. This model fails
to recognize the impact of acculturation on the host community.
Due to the concerns relating to the unidimensional model,
bidimensional models were developed. The first bidimensional model was
developed by Berry who sought to highlight the importance of minority
and host community acculturation equally as opposed to looking at them
as related opposites. Bourhis et al. (1997) explain that Berrys
understanding was that, rather than being in opposition with each other
along a single dimension, the immigrant and host community identities
are shaped as distinct processes that develop separately along orthogonal
dimensions (376). Berry developed the Immigrant Acculturation Scale

using the previously discussed Fourfold Theoiy; this has remained the
most useful bidimensional model proposed. This scale was developed to
determine the best acculturation strategy and address two questions facing
immigrants: is there value in the immigrant culture and that should be
maintained, and what is the value of intergroup contact with the host
community (Bourhis et al. 1997). Berry developed questions to generate
the four acculturation strategies: integration, assimilation, separation, and
marginalization. The results showed integration to be the most preferred
mode, followed by assimilation and separation; marginalization was the
least preferred of the four. Berry discovered varying levels of stress with
each, the least amount associated with integration and the greatest
amount with marginalization (Bourhis et al. 1997).
One of the problems often associated with the bidimensional model
is the de-emphasis on how the host community can impact the
acculturation of minorities. Pham and Harris (2001) have highlighted
recent studies that emphasize the important effect the host community has
on the acculturation process, especially regarding the psychological
consequences that result from acculturation of refugees. Many feel that
acculturation occurs within the two groups, immigrants and host, with

change in each interacting together to influence the direction and outcome
of that change (qtd. in Bourhis et al. 1997, 379).
Using Berrys Immigrant Acculturation Scale, the Interactive
Acculturation Model (IAM) was developed by Bourhis et al. (1997) to
incorporate three components of immigrant and host community relations
into its framework: orientations adopted by immigrants in the host
community, orientations adopted by the host community towards
immigrants, and relational outcomes that are the product of
combinations of immigrant and host community acculturation
orientations (379). Based on the profiles developed, when the immigrant
group and the host community have the same acculturation orientation,
concordance emerges. In contrast, discordance emerges when the
acculturation orientations of the immigrant group and the host
community are different. Whether these groups are concordant or
discordant determines the relational outcomes regarding how
acculturation will play out in each case and can impact communication,
attitudes, and stress. Bourhis et al. (1997) found three main relational
outcomes using the Intercultural Acculturation Model: consensual,
problematic, and conflictual. A consensual relational outcome is reached
when both the host community and the minority agree integration,

assimilation, or individualism is the desired mode of acculturation. A
problematic relational outcome occurs when the host and the minority
communities agree on some aspects and disagree on others regarding the
desired mode of acculturation. The most negative outcome occurs when a
conflictual model emerges; here one group may desire separation while
the other desires segregation or exclusion. This outcome yields the highest
probability of intergroup conflict.
In addition to realizing the impact of the host community on the
acculturation of the minority group, it is important to recognize how
public policy affects acculturation. The Intercultural Acculturation Model
presented by Bourhis et al. stresses that public policy must work in
conjunction with both the host community and minority groups in order to
achieve the most successful relational outcomes of acculturation. State
policies define who a refugee is and what they are entitled to within that
state. According to Canniff, (2001) when refugees leave their homeland
they essentially lose control over their future; where they will be settled,
the decisions they make, and the rights they will have are instead
determined by the laws and policies of the host state (8). The reasons a
state accepts refugees can vary greatly. States may accept certain groups
over others due to historical relations with the country of origin, to
-41 -

promote their own economic or social self interests, for humanitarian
reasons, etc. (Bourhis et al. 1997). Often these concerns outweigh
reuniting families. All of these factors greatly affect and challenge the
acculturation process of refugees:
People who lack security of residence, civil and political
rights are prevented from participating fully in society. They
do not have the opportunity of deciding to what extent they
want to interact with the rest of the population, and to what
extent they want to preserve there own culture and norms.
The choice is pre-empted by legal disabilities, which lead to
isolation, separatism and alienation. The option of becoming
a citizen may not lead to equality and full participation, but it
is a pre-condition for it. (qtd. in Bourhis et al. 1997, 372)
Bourhis et al. (1997) examine how state policies impact the
acculturation of immigrants and the host community. The analysis of these
policies and how they function can work equally well when looking at the
acculturation of refugees and their host community. What Bourhis et al.
characterizes as the four main state ideologies fit well with the types of
acculturation we have been discussing: pluralist ideology, civic ideology,
assimilation ideology, and ethnist ideology. This thesis will discuss
pluralism and civic ideologies as they relate most strongly to integration,
the preferred mode of acculturation discussed in this thesis. Pluralist
ideology expects that the immigrant will adopt the public values of the
host community; the state in turn has no right to regulate private values.

There are two key factors associated with this ideology; first is that it is
considered valuable to the host community for the minority group to
retain their traditions, and second, as all pay taxes it is only fair that both
the host community and minority receive funding for ethno-cultural
activities. While this ideology is seen to celebrate cultural diversity, some
see it as undermining the culture of the host majority (Bourhis et al. 1997,
373). The civic ideology, like the pluralist ideology, expects the public
values of the host community to be adopted and does not interfere in
private values. However, while pluralist ideology is willing to fund private
activities of both the host and minority groups, the civic ideology has a
policy of nonintervention meaning no funding of private sector activities
but also no prevention of the practice of these activities (Bourhis et al.
1997, 373)- Unfortunately, what often happens here is a funding for the
host community and minimal recognition to minority groups. The policy a
state chooses to implement can change in the blink of an eye due to
economic, political, demographic, or military situations both nationally
and internationally. The policy a state chooses, the reasons why, and the
implementations of that policy all have a substantial impact on the
acculturation of minorities and the host community within that state. This
Intercultural Acculturation Model is such an important addition to
-43 -

acculturation theory specifically because it recognizes that one cannot look
only to the minority group when analyzing how they acculturate; the host
community and state policies play an equally influential role. Failing to
include any of these aspects can lead to an incomplete conclusion
regarding minority acculturation.
Critique of Acculturation Theory
While acculturation theory is regarded as highly constructive and
can be utilized to study numerous subjects, it does have its critics.
Acculturation theory provides a practical foundation for studying refugees,
but it is important to present the questions that have been asked of it as
Some researchers see the field of acculturation, especially the
Fourfold Theory, as focusing too strongly on the minority group, failing to
give credence to the majority group. The very definition of acculturation is
in discordance with this critique as acculturation is a process of
bidirectional change that takes place when two ethno cultural groups come
into contact with one another (Bourhis et al. 1997, 370). However, as
Rudmin (2003) argues, various critics argue that acculturation has failed
to apply the same critical standards of observation to the donor side of
contact situations as thy do to the receiving side (Critical 5). Researchers

have argued that acculturation does not happen solely to the minority
group; failure to recognize this leads to the assumption that the host
community is absolute and incapable of change. All groups react to change
and acculturation whether they are a part of the minority or the majority
group; as a result of the speed and ease of world travel, global
communications, and international marketing, all humans everywhere, are
subject to acculturation processes, whether they know it or not and
whether they like it or not (Rudmin, Critical 2003, 6). Other
researchers, such as Escobar and Vega, consider the study of acculturation
to provide invalid, ambiguous, and doubtful results as they are based on
assumptions about culture that any anthropologist would find
incredulous and because acculturation scales proliferate without any
comparative, critical reviews of their performance (qtd. in Rudmin,
Critical 2003,5).
A seemingly valid critique of acculturation theory is the lack of
active and continual development. There is frequently a lack of reference
to previous research done in the field:
Acculturation scholars, as a group, have not been intent on
thoroughly searching the literature and thus building on, or
confronting, previous scholarship. New theories tend to be neither
extensions nor improvements of earlier theories, nor winners in
competition against other theories. (Rudmin, Critical 2003,16).

This lack of citation seems to remain consistent throughout the modern
development of acculturation theory. In addition to a lack of citation of
other researchers, there is often a failure to cite the researchers own
previous research. When looking at various fourfold classifications, on
average only 5% of scholars cited their predecessors (Rudmin, Critical
2003, 16). This is disconcerting as the only way to forge continual and
constructive progress is to build and add on to the foundation by working
from and questioning what has already been established.
The main problems and critiques regarding the field of
acculturation have always been, and remain, these inconsistencies.
Keeping these inconsistencies in mind, acculturation theory remains a
useful and relevant method for studying the acculturation processes of
refugee populations.
Acculturation Case Studies
There has been much research done on the acculturation of
refugees in the United States, beginning primarily in the early 1960s.
Previous research has concentrated on case studies and analysis of specific
groups, resettlement in particular areas, and/or specific time periods. It is
widely acknowledged that each refugee resettlement and acculturation

process is unique due to the very nature of being a refugee as well as the
fact that the differences among each group and wave are profound (Haines
1985). This thesis will look to some of the case studies that have been
conducted regarding refugees and in some cases immigrants.
I have already discussed in some detail the importance of The
Polish Peasant to the history and development of acculturation. This study
was conducted by Thomas and Znaniecki (1996) in 1918 and emphasized
the importance of the group over the individual as being the key to change.
The individuals bring their traditions and mores and form a much less
cohesive group in the U.S. than they were a part of in Europe. In the U.S.
they are a group formed more out of necessity. Though these groups allow
for maintenance of the minority traditions, they are in a weakened form.
While this group encompasses primary relations, there is a strong desire
and dependence on relations with the host community (Thomas and
Znaniecki 1996). The conclusions reached by these researchers highlight
the biculturalism discussed previously, a transitional position where
aspects of the traditional minority culture are abandoned and aspects of
the new host culture adopted.
After years of research, Oscar Handlin (1973) produced his Pulitzer
Prize winning history of immigration in America. Through this work,

Handlin highlighted the alienation felt by immigrants: the failure to
belong, being a foreigner, broken homes, separation from loved ones, and
the interruption of their familiar life. Through this alienation Handlin
researched how relationships were worked out and how these immigrants
discovered their new identity. This detailed and epic story that Handlin
presents is seen as one of the founding works of immigration studies.
David Haines (1985) provides an excellent breakdown of the Cuban
refugee population in the U.S. which has been the subject of extensive
research regarding acculturation, due to their close proximity to the
United States and the ongoing political situation. There were four main
waves of Cuban refugees between 1959 and the early 1980s. Haines (1985)
described how each successive wave differed in many ways regarding
economic status, education, gender, and family structure; these differences
led to varying acculturation experiences with each wave. Due to previous
immigration and established communities, the Cuban refugee experience
differs from subsequent groups such as the Southeast Asian and African
Southeast Asian groups, especially the Hmong, Vietnamese, and
Cambodian, have also been the subject of much research regarding
acculturation. These groups remained prominent from the mid 1970s

throughout the 1980s. The composition of the Southeast Asian refugees
groups has varied greatly with regards to education, gender, economics,
and family structure. As Ng (1998) points out, the strong kin relationship
among Southeast Asian refugees has been an especially important factor
affecting acculturation and has been the focus research regarding those
specific groups and how successfully they acculturate (194). Canniffs
(2001) studies of the Khmer from Cambodia have shown them to place
more emphasis on being content with what life presents and to work
towards a good next life as opposed to seeking wealth and short-term
gratification and success. Their definition of success stems from their
traditional Buddhist and Cambodian beliefs. The Khmer understand what
it takes to succeed in the U.S. and accept that it will be a difficult process;
they understand that while they may not achieve everything now they are
building the foundation for their children and grandchildren to achieve.
In their landmark study on the Boat People from Vietnam,
Cambodia, and Laos conducted in the 1980s, Caplan et al. (1989) sought
to explore what these refugees had accomplished in the short time since
their arrival in the U.S. Their study found that these refugees had excelled
in economic and educational facets (149). The study emphasized the
cohesiveness the Boat People felt as a group:

There is a pooling of human resources and teamwork as they avoid
conflict and find ways to cater to their needs and priorities, as they
maintain their cherished cultural values and begin to apply them
purposefully and creatively in building their future. (154)
The Boat People adapted based on their group sense of identity and
focused less on the individual than on the good of the group or family; they
were held together by their traditional culture and beliefs as they
navigated their new environment.
In studying Bosnian refugees in Australia, Colic-Peisker and Walker
(2003) focused on how three elements of human capital: skills, language,
and rural-urban background impacted the acculturation process of these
refugees. They looked at how both the refugee group and the host
community determined the outcome of this acculturation process. Some
important highlights in this study include the impact of the negative
stereotype refugees felt was associated with their status, lack of English
language knowledge, and culture shock from relocating to an urban area.
Colic-Peisker and Walker (2003) found separation from the host society to
be the most common type of acculturation occurring among the Bosnian
refugees studied in Australia.
Studies have been conducted on the resettlement and acculturation
of female refugees. Waxman & Colic-Peisker (2005) have highlighted the

importance of education, the level of familial support women possess, the
opportunity to attend ESL, cultural orientation classes, childcare classes,
and continuing education. Refugee women who are engaged in the wider
community are able to acculturate more so than those relegated to the
home with little contact outside their immediate community. M aloof and
Ross-Sheriff (2003) have cited religion as having a strong impact on the
acculturation levels of female refugees, often relating directly to the above
factors. Finally, trauma and violence in the country of origin, transit
countries, and/or the final destination country, strongly impact the
acculturation of female refugees. Many refugee women have experienced
war-related violence, sexual assault, torture, incarceration, genocide
oftentimes related solely to their gender. This affects them physically, but
it can also have lasting psychological consequences that negatively impact
acculturation (Long 2008).
In understanding the history and development of acculturation
theory, its relevance as a method of studying refugees as they cope with a
new cultural environment is apparent. Refugees have been forced to flee
their homeland to avoid social, political, and or economic persecution.
They bring with them strong cultural ties and must learn to navigate
between what they have always known and a new and foreign
-51 -

environment. Acculturation theory looks at the types of acculturation that
can be chosen by both refugees and the host community along with the
potential outcomes associated with each choice. Of these different types,
integration is the one that celebrates the retention of the refugees
traditional culture, while at the same time encouraging refugees to
embrace the host culture for the enrichment it can bring to their future
lives. Examining the acculturation of refugees and the host community
affords the opportunity to observe the triumphs and challenges that have
been experienced as well as the improvements that need to be made for
future development. Acculturation theory suggests that if adequate
cultural orientation is provided, if refugees are welcomed and accepted,
taught about their new society, how it works, and what part they play in it,
they will be more apt to participate. In the following chapter I will discuss
what types of orientation programs are occurring with Denvers refugee
population and how they are addressing the issue of acculturation.

This chapter provides a basic understanding of the orientation
programs available to refugees in the Denver area. These orientation
programs range from ESL and employment assistance to expected
behavior and legal matters in the U.S. The Agency for Human Rights and
Community Relations which is a part of the City and County of Denver
Office of Community Support has put together a resource guide for
refugees and immigrants that provides information on the programs and
services offered in the Denver area to assist in the acculturation process.
This guide lists 59 agencies that offer some sort assistance to refugees or
immigrants in the Denver area. Three of these agencies are voluntary
resettlement agencies that provide the initial resettlement and placement
services to refugees. The rest of the agencies are community based
organizations that offer assistance in a variety of areas: ESL, healthcare,
womens rights, citizenship, financial counseling, youth education, etc.
Some of these agencies focus more one certain groups than others, be it
refugees or immigrants, or specific ethnic populations.
The information contained in this chapter is based on interviews
with spokespersons from three of these Denver agencies, encompassing

both the voluntary resettlement agencies and the community based
organizations. These interviews were conducted to ascertain the types of
cultural orientation programs available in Denver and how they address
the issue of refugee acculturation. This chapter will present the findings of
these interviews through a discussion of the questions and answers given
in these interviews. The interview consisted of eleven questions which will
in some cases be grouped together in the discussion. The agencies
interviewed will be identified solely as Agency l, 2, or 3 in order to respect
complete confidentiality. Again, I will reiterate that the information
contained in this chapter is based on the insight of the three agencies that
this thesis examined. The information contained in this chapter is not
meant to represent the views of all of the agencies that work with refugees
in Denver nor is it to be taken as generally accepted facts.
Refugee Orientation
The first few questions of this interview were asked to determine
what programs each agency offers, how they are delivered, if there is any
type of tracking or measurement system available to track the success or
failure of these programs. From these interviews it is obvious that there
are many types of refugee orientation programs available in Denver.
Agency 1 provides a two-week cultural orientation program to arriving

refugees. Currently this program offers an introduction to many areas of
life in the United States, but specifically Denver. This orientation program
covers areas such as rights and services that refugees should expect, an
introduction to the healthcare system, the normal types of food refugees
will encounter in their new environment and how to shop for those items,
money, transportation, and education. This orientation occurs in
collaboration with another agency and is often conducted by various
individuals specializing in certain areas.
Agencies 2 and 3 also offer what is called cultural orientation;
however, the format and method of delivery varies. Agency 3 provides an
in-house orientation for each client. This generally consists of a four to
five hour meeting with the case manager within three days of the refugees
arrival. This orientation covers the starting services. Case managers go
over documentation, agreements, what a refugee should expect, housing,
and parenting, and they lay out a resettlement and employment plan for
the refugee and/or the refugee family. This orientation discusses what is
expected of a refugee in the U.S. and utilizes resources such as housing
packets, orientation videos, and Facts of Life in the U.S booklets to convey
the message to each refugee. Agency 3s orientation does not start with an
intense cultural orientation class, but considers their initial orientation to
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be the beginning of ongoing orientation for the refugee. The bulk of
Agency 3s orientation is conducted by the case manager; however, Agency
3 does utilize employment and health service specialists to assist in the
orientation process for refugees.
The core services provided by Agency 2 are funded by the state and
include: housing, furnishing, social services, ESL, employment, and social
security to name a few. Although some services are conducted in house,
many are contracted out through the state refugee network. While Agency
2 provides up to eight months of cash assistance, it can work with a
refugee for up to five years and offers all services needed to make refugee
self-sufficient within their new community.
Beyond these basic cultural orientation services, Agencies 1 and 3
also focus on other areas. Agency 1 has a pre-employability training
program for refugees to assist them in obtaining and retaining a job in the
U.S. This is a two-week program lasting around 60 hours that is devoted to
job training. This program incorporates anywhere between six and ten
trainers, a coordinator, and possibly a liaison with other agencies. Agency
3 has tried to expand the core services they provide by utilizing community
services. They have a program that focuses on womens empowerment,
and they completed a nutrition program this summer. Agency 3 also

provides orientation mentors to refugees, and supports after school
tutoring and a parenting program that occurs once or twice a year to
acquaint refugee parents with the education system and expectations in
the U.S. Agency 3 is working on a financial literacy and sustainability
program for refugees to help them better understand financial planning,
budgets, and credit. They support Individual Development Accounts (IDA)
which is a program run by the United Way (not interviewed for this thesis)
and assists refugees in three areas: education, home buying, and starting a
business. This program matches, to a certain amount, money that a
refugee has saved to get ahead in one of these three areas and requires the
refugee to attend intensive classes that provide education and assistance in
the achievement of goals in these three areas.
In addition to understanding the types of services available to
refugees in Denver, it is important to examine any types of tracking or
measurement that agencies may have in place to determine the progress of
these orientation programs and the refugees participating in them. This
tends to vary among agencies examined in this thesis. Agency 1 goes back
to refugee community members for feedback on the cultural orientation
program in addition to seeking feedback from other agencies in contact
with these refugees. This feedback is sought not only to determine the

success and failures of the information provided, but also what would have
been important to include that was omitted. Agency l finds this feedback
to be crucial to the success of orientation; however, there is no formal
tracking system for the cultural orientation programs they provide.
Previous funding required 30, 60, and 90 day tracking to occur on Agency
l's employment program. This is not the case at this point in time, since
Agency 1 is not actually in charge of getting the jobs for refugees but
instead is responsible for helping prepare them to get jobs. With this
program, Agency 1 again seeks the feedback of both refugees who have
completed the program and employers who have hired refugees.
Agency 2 reported that they are required to track various aspects
relating to the refugees in their computer system both for their national
office and the state refugee coordinator of Colorado. Regarding the
cultural orientation that Agency 3 conducts, there is no formal tracking
system; however, case managers and orientation staff are constantly
monitor how well the refugees they are responsible for are adapting; what
is getting through, what they are having a difficult time with, and what
needs to be reiterated. The staff has an extensive knowledge of their clients
and what is going on with them through continual meetings and follow-up.
Agency 3 does track employment outcomes related to the refugees they

serve. They track many factors including where each refugee is/was
employed, for how long, the salary they earned, follow-up with the
employer, etc. According to Agency 3, employment has more universally
identifiable factors making tracking easier and more relevant.
This thesis has focused on the importance of acculturation,
specifically in the form of integration, to the refugee orientation process.
Four of the questions from the administered interview focus on how
refugees are integrating into the Denver community, the characteristics or
qualities most often associated with successful integration, the interest of
the refugee communities in participating in the host community of
Denver, the Denver communitys interest in making the acculturation
process of refugees efficient and welcoming, and the value of retaining the
traditional culture the refugees bring with them while incorporating
necessary aspects of the Denver community.
There are a myriad of factors that impact how successfully a refugee
will acculturate within their new community. The agencies emphatically
asserted that they found English proficiency to be one of the most
influential and important factors leading to successful acculturation. While
education was cited as a very important factor, English was found to be

even more important. Agency 2 felt English proficiency to be the number
one factor, of course everyone gets a job, those who speak a high level of
English have an easier time getting jobs and they are often better jobs.
Agency 3 noted, English proficiency and education make a refugee more
marketable and more able to take care of their needs. All the participating
agencies agreed that simply having a high level of education is not the key
factor; it can often lead to more frustration. Many highly educated
refugees often find it harder to get a job in the U.S. as their qualifications
dont transfer leading them to take jobs they are grossly overqualified for.
This can lead to feeling depressed, ashamed and unable to provide for
their families.
In addition to English language proficiency, the agencies found the
attitude of the refugee to be of equal importance regarding successful
acculturation. Agency 1 found there to be a continuum regarding refugee
attitudes: at one end refugees who are assertive and independent and at
the other end refugees who are dependent. According to Agency 1, Those
refugees who do best are those who are able to act assertively and
independently; they request information, they dont wait to be told what to
do or how to help themselves. Agency 1 felt that there is almost a selection
process; those refugees with a proactive nature, capable of networking,

seeking out resources and contacts are the ones who will do well, in
contrast to those who wait for their case manager to do everything for
them. Agency 3 found the attitudes of the refugee to be critical as well.
Agency 3 stated that energy, motivation, good attitude, and a positive
outlook generally lead to a refugee who will thrive within their new
environment while those who feel buried by pressure will be less
successful. According to Agency 3, refugees who feel a sense of
victimization and are simply waiting for the system to help them without
putting in their own effort have a much more difficult time acculturating to
their new environment.
Agencies 1 and 3 cited a few other factors they felt strongly
impacted successful acculturation. Agency 3 has noticed that those
refugees that come from a culture that shares some similarities with the
new culture understandably have an easier time becoming oriented while
those coming from a culture that is vastly different find the new culture
completely foreign and have a much more difficult time becoming
acculturated. Similarly, Agency 1 found culture to be very relevant.
According to Agency 1, those refugees that come from a refugee camp
environment often experience a slower learned development process and
have a more challenging time adapting while those who have not been in a
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camp are generally more educated and sophisticated, leading to an
easier time when it comes to acculturating to Denver.
One last point that is very important to highlight, as pointed out by
Agency l, is that refugees are survivors. Refugees have a special ability to
cope with disaster and displacement. Having to acquaint themselves with
the community of Denver and the American way of life is not the first or
the worst challenge that they have had to deal with. The resilience and
determination that so many possess are what has gotten them to this point
and what will continue to carry them through the acculturation process.
Four of the interview questions dealt directly with the integration of
the refugees and the Denver community and the commitment that each
has towards integrating with the other. The agencies were asked to rate
how interested they found refugees to be when it comes to participating in
the Denver community, be it linguistically, socially, politically, and/or
culturally. Agency l found refugees to overall be interested or positive
regarding participation in the Denver community, especially at first. Many
refugees are participating in community events; for example, Mercy
Housing (not interviewed in this thesis) holds safety workshops. Through
these workshops refugees are learning important safety information and
behavior about their apartments; they are also meeting their neighbors.

These workshops break down stereotypes, create trust and establish
mutual bonds. Participating in these workshops helps break down the
initial barrier of fear between people. Many refugees are also found to be
participating in sporting events, especially soccer. Also, some agencies
organize community dinners where all community members are invited to
attend, creating a welcoming atmosphere where people can network
among varying cultures.
Agency 1 finds most refugees to be interested and positive about
participating in the Denver community, but there are exceptions. Certain
ethnic groups seem unconcerned about participating in their new
community, and some refugees seem more ambivalent the longer they are
in the U.S. After refugees have been in the U.S. for five years, they have the
option of applying for citizenship. While it would seem that this would be
an exciting opportunity, many refugees are ambivalent at the prospect of
becoming U.S. citizens, as they feel that they are giving up what they have
left of their original self. In addition, many refugees are coming from
homogenous communities, and so the diversity of their new Denver
community is foreign along with the culture being foreign, making
integration a difficult and daunting process.

Agency 2 also finds a majority of refugees to be interested and
positive when it comes to participating in their new community. It really is
something that varies case by case and it is very difficult in the beginning
when the refugees dont know a lot but they are generally willing to learn
and try very hard. Agency 2 finds refugees to be very interested in
pursuing higher education opportunities in Denver which has several
benefits: obviously the education in itself, but also understanding culture,
critical thinking, and interaction with many different people. According to
Agency 2, most refugees form communities; for example, there are very
strong Somali Bantu and Burmese communities in the Denver area.
Through these communities refugees discuss their own culture and the
new host culture of Denver; they discuss what is good and how to adapt;
through their community organizations they participate in the larger
Denver community.
In contrast to Agencies 1 and 2, Agency 3 found the majority of
refugees to be unconcerned or neutral regarding participating in the host
community of Denver. Interest in participating in ones new community
rests on many factors, specifically age and what ethnic group a refugee
comes from. On balance regarding language, the younger the refugee the
more interested in learning English they are, while older refugees tend to

say they cant or wont learn the new language. Most refugees get very
excited about the higher education opportunities in Denver and are excited
to participate in that aspect of the community. On the opposite end,
refugees are rarely willing to integrate or adjust their food patterns. This is
generally an aspect that refugees do not change at any time. Agency 3 finds
that food is one of the ways that people, in this case refugees, retain their
culture and pass it on through generations. Food is also a cultural aspect
that can be easily retained while acculturating to a new society and is often
one of the most enjoyable and acceptable aspect of ones culture to share
with others as is the community dinners discussed previously. All three
agencies agreed that there are very few refugees who are against or
negative regarding participating in the Denver community.
As this thesis has emphasized the integration of the minority and
host cultures, it is also important to look at how invested the host
community of Denver is regarding the successful acculturation of refugees
into the Denver community. Both Agencies 1 and 3 found, on balance, the
host community of Denver to be unconcerned or neutral regarding the
successful acculturation of refugees. Agency 1 has found that people often
fail to differentiate between refugees and immigrants, and while those
working in the refugee resettlement field are very positive, the Denver

community in general is quite ambivalent about refugees. This
ambivalence is often fear-based, especially when it comes to religious
freedom. The Agency l spokesperson reflected, Yes, we believe in freedom
of religion here, but basically you are free to adapt our religion. In
addition to the fear-based ambivalence that is present, Agency 1 points out
that Colorado legislation, while not always enforceable, does not send a
welcoming message to the refugee communities. Legislation requiring
multiple documents to be acquired and in place before medical care and
other services can be administered creates an environment of hostility.
Agency l characterizes the situation as they are going to make this
difficult. Agency l has found there to be a decline in participation in
services such as ESL possibly due to this fear of having to obtain, not being
able to obtain, or not having these documents as well as feeling stuck in an
unwelcome climate.
While Agency 3 agreed that on balance the host community of
Denver is unconcerned or neutral regarding the acculturation of refugees
into the Denver community, the reasons cited differ. Agency 3 found that
in general the Denver community is unaware of the scope of the refugee
situation and communities in Denver and so how could they feel invested
in the successful acculturation of a population. Agency 3 does think even

those who do not know of the refugee situation in Denver have a very
positive attitude upon learning of the situation. They want refugees to be
successful and become a part of society; they are excited about the variety
of cultures in Denver and learning about the cultures that refugees bring
with them; however, they do generally have very high expectations for
refugees regarding how they act, their attitudes, and the effort they put
forth. Those members of the Denver community who are aware of the
refugee situation often get involved through volunteering, churches and
school. Agency 2 cited these reasons as indicating that on balance the host
community of Denver is invested in the successful acculturation of
refugees, because there are many people volunteering through churches,
through resettlement agencies, and through community services and
activities. Here again, all three agencies believe that only a few people
actually feel negative regarding the successful acculturation of the refugee
The final question relating to integration that was discussed in the
interview asked the three agencies if they see value in the retention of a
refugees traditional culture in addition to taking on aspects of the
American culture. All three agencies emphatically agreed that they
encourage and believe it is important for a refugee to retain their

traditional culture. Agency 2 encourages celebrating the culture, holidays,
events, and food of a refugees culture to keep these rich traditions alive
and creates opportunities for refugees to share their culture with other
groups, be it other refugee populations or the host community of Denver.
The celebration and sharing of these cultures most often occur through
churches and voluntary agencies.
Agency 1 looked at this question from the viewpoint of education,
referring to language-learning theory. Those refugee children who
continue to learn in their primary language will develop better as they
learn in their second language. In contrast, those students in junior high
and high school often have a challenging time regarding cultural retention.
They do not see where they fit in to their new culture, and so they often
reject their traditional culture. Agency 1 has observed that as refugees get
older they see the value in their traditional culture and again come to
embrace it. Agency 1 believes that there is a wonderful richness to the
refugees cultures and promotes the retention and sharing these cultures
through community and agency events. Agency programs are often ended
by a sharing of cultures; refugees are encouraged to share an aspect of
their culture, especially food, with the other refugees in their program and
those who have run the program.

Agency 3 also feels that it is important for the refugees to retain
their traditional culture in addition to accepting their new culture. Agency
3s spokesperson elaborated, There needs to be a balance between the
two, an understanding of the value of the native culture and traditions, the
value of give and take in some areas, and the need to adapt in other areas.
With regards to employment and time, for example, these are areas that it
is necessary for refugees to adapt to American expectations if they want
succeed. One cannot arrive hours late to work or important appointments
without consequences. Refugees must adapt to the standards present in
the employment sector if they want to get jobs, retain those jobs, and/or
advance in those jobs. Acculturation is a two way street, all cultures
involved need to be willing to give and take.
Success and Challenges
In addition to learning about the programs that are offered to
refugees to assist in the acculturation process and how integration is
addressed through those programs and by the groups involved, it is
important to analyze the success and challenges experienced by these
agencies. The final questions of the interview discuss each agencys
perspective on what each agency is doing well, what could be improved

upon, and the main obstacles facing each agency regarding refugee
Agency 1 feels that its cultural orientation program in its current
format covers too much information. There is too much talking to the
refugees as opposed to hands-on experience; for example, they need to
take refugees to the store more often to show them how to shop, what to
look for, and how prices work instead of talking about it in a classroom
format. Many of the issues discussed in orientation programs are difficult
to explain; for example, there is a lot of bureaucracy and inconsistency
associated with food stamps; it is challenging to convey how this works, or
does not work sometimes, to the refugee populations. The workplace and
the job market are not always as friendly as they are portrayed in the
classroom, leading some refugees to be confused when they are trying to
get jobs and even after they have jobs. In contrast to the challenges faced,
Agency l has also experienced much success. They are working with
employers to change the work atmosphere for refugees as well as the
content that is taught to refugees as they learn about how the workplace
functions. They are trying to provide the most true-to-life content and
information to refugees about the workplace and have added sections such
as sexual harassment and how to adapt to current conditions and culture

shock, what to expect and how to deal with it. Agency l is also constantly
working on getting former students and employers to come in and speak to
current student to provide first- hand experience and requirements to
arriving refugee populations.
Agency 2 believes that their success is illustrated by looking at the
refugees they serve. The agency provides more services than they are
contracted to provide, regarding the human side, we go above and
beyond. Agency 2 works well with a very large network of agencies.
Agency 2s spokesperson felt that it can be difficult but it is rewarding to
look at refugees a few years down the road and the success they have
achieved from buying homes to educational achievements. There are
services available to refugees for up to five years; however, very few take
advantage of these services for that amount of time. Agency 2 believes this
is its greatest success, the achievement of self-sufficiency by the refugee
populations they serve.
Agency 3 has a few areas that they are working on improving. They
are working hard on improving their financial literacy program as
economics is a very crucial area; refugees feel the economic problems
facing them in their new community very strongly as they are often, in the
words of the Agency 3 spokesperson, at the bottom of the food chain.
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They are also looking to revamp their housing and parenting programs;
these are aspects of orientation that are often challenging for refugees, and
Agency 3 is working very hard on improving this area of service. While
they have work to do in some areas there are others where they feel they
excel. Agency 3 feels they do well in executing the initial refugee
orientation services: explaining the role of the refugees in their new
community, employment, cash assistance, etc. According to Agency 3, the
case managers really know their clients: you could stop any case manager
in the hall, name one of their many clients, and they will provide you with
detailed information on the situation of that refugee, how they are
adapting, what is difficult for them etc. They really know how to address
the individual needs of each of their clients. Agency 3 also feels that they
respond exceptionally well to community-wide needs. For example, if the
agency notices a rise in domestic violence within a certain refugee
community, they are able to immediately coordinate and address the issue
with a positive outcome. They are good at sensing the problems coming up
in various refugee communities, taking on those problems, addressing the
consequences, and putting forth the changes that need to occur to fix the
problem or issue.

Regardless of the challenges faced and the successes achieved, each
agency faces obstacles to providing orientation to the many refugee
populations they serve. Funding is an often cited barrier by the agencies
discussed in this thesis, but not the only barrier. Two of the agencies cited
funding as the number one obstacle to providing service. Agency 2 feels
very appreciative for the amount of funding they get but recognizes that it
will never be enough. Agency 2 finds funding is a huge challenge, as it
affects the amount of staff an agency can employ, leading many to feel
stretched and having to take on more than they can handle. Agency 2 also
finds economic factors to be a big obstacle. When the economy is poor, it
is much more difficult for the refugee populations to find jobs. When
employers only have a few jobs they can be very picky about whom they
hire. A poor economy impacts all areas of a refugees acculturation
process. Another obstacle is the attitude of government agencies involved
in refugee resettlement. Agency 2 explained:
People dont understand that the amount of money a refugee
receives is not enough to cover their bills, but they have no say in
the matter because it is decided by the state and federal
government, people who dont have a realistic understanding of
what it is like for the refugee populations.
According to Agency 2, the State Department is happy with the
measurements and data numbers they receive and think the programs are
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functioning as well as possible; in turn they dont see the need to increase
Agency l also believes funding to be a huge obstacle; they are not
funded to do more or provide services for a longer period of time. Another
obstacle is the expectations often placed on the refugee populations. They
are expected to get jobs very quickly, before they have even had a chance
to acculturate to their new environments. Agency l brought up the
example of the Scandinavian countries that give the refugees a longer
period to orient to their new environment, to spend time learning the
culture and language, before they are expected to enter the workforce.
Working with other agencies to standardize procedures and programs is
challenging. All of the agencies are in place to serve and have good
intentions; however, each agency works differently and so achieving
consistency and agreement is often an obstacle. Finally, each refugee
population and even the groups within those populations have different
needs. Addressing the many varying needs of different refugees is
naturally a challenge as is making sure you are conveying the right
message and information to refugees in an effective manner. Agency l
believes that balancing the manner in which information is conveyed is
important: not that your culture is wrong and mine is right, but here are

the rules of this society. Agency i finds that it can be an obstacle to convey
this information without seeming like you are criticizing their culture. It
helps if teachers are aware of their own cultural biases, and aware of how
they are presenting the information; they are not experts in the other
culture but are always learning as well as teaching.
Interestingly, Agency 3 did not cite funding as the number one
issue, but believes mixed messages to be the biggest obstacle that both
refugees and the agencies that serve them face. People often give the
wrong information to refugees. This can come from many areas. Refugees
receive incorrect information from other refugees in camps or friends and
relatives already relocated to other countries; for example there will be
your own car waiting for you at the airport when you arrive. Some people
that refugees meet once they are resettled give them inconsistent
information; television commercials can be very confusing; members of
their own refugee community give them inconsistent information; and
then there are the people out there who prey on vulnerable populations.
According to Agency 3, all of this inconsistent information and mixed
messages can have varying consequences for refugees, from the decisions
they make to the people they trust to what they believe they are entitled to.

Consistent with previous research regarding refugees, cultural
orientation, and acculturation, funding and bureaucracy remain obstacles
to providing refugees with the desirable quality of assistance and
programs. Analysis of these three interviews shows that the agencies
believe that they are providing relevant and varied cultural orientation to
its refugee population, be it initial core services, job training, ESL, or
networking opportunities. While there is often disagreement on the best
method of delivering refugee services among the three agencies referenced
for this thesis, they all emphatically agreed that there is a strong network
of agencies in the Denver area all with the ultimate goal of aiding in the
acculturation process of refugees; this goal supersedes any disagreement.
Each of these three agencies understands that no one agency can provide
all services to refugees, and it is important to work together not only with
other agencies, but with churches, volunteers, and the many communities
that make up the Denver community to provide a welcoming atmosphere
to refugees and a community in which refugees and host community
members are working to integrate and make Denver a functional and
diverse community.

The following chapter will present the findings and conclusions of
this thesis regarding the acculturation of refugees within the Denver

The acculturation process of refugees is a complicated and varied
phenomenon. I began this thesis with the assumption that cultural
orientation was not consistently occurring at the functional level necessary
to provide for the successful acculturation of refugees into the Denver
community. After gaining a strong foundational understanding of the
modern history of refugees in the United States, the development of
cultural orientation, the scope of acculturation theory, and upon
examining three of the agencies in the Denver area that provide
orientation services and deal with the daily challenges associated with the
refugee resettlement field, my opinion has changed. There are programs in
place that address the acculturation and orientation issues of refugee
populations in Denver. These programs vary greatly among the different
agencies and have experienced successes and challenges; however, they
are in place and they are moving in the right direction.
A limitation of this analysis is that it only examines the process of
refugee acculturation from the perspective of the agencies providing the
services, specifically the three agencies examined in this thesis. It may be
the case that the refugees receiving the services and members of the

Denver host community have very different views from those of the
agencies. Keeping this limitation in mind, this concluding chapter
summarizes and reflects upon the issue of refugee acculturation from the
point of view of the refugee agencies examined and the research gathered
for this thesis.
Agency Level Analysis
Problems and Challenges
In general, agencies go above and beyond to provide cultural
orientation services to refugees, but regardless of good intentions, agencies
continue to be hampered by lack of funds. Asking the agencies to do more
is not the solution, as they are simply doing the best with what they are
given. According to previous research, some agencies provide only those
services which they are required to provide; however, there are agencies,
some of those examined in this thesis, that are consistently working to
improve and tweak the services they provide so they evolve as the needs to
the refugee populations evolve.
A valid critique that can be made regarding refugee agencies is a
lack of cohesiveness. While agencies do work together, there are a variety
of services occurring. As stated earlier there are 59, give or take a few,
agencies in Denver that provide some services to refugee populations.

While this shows an incredible commitment towards refugee populations
by the Denver community, it also feeds into the mixed messages problem
that Agency 3 cited as an obstacle to providing service to refugees. There
are resettlement agencies providing the same core services but delivering
them in varying fashions; there are many different agencies offering ESL,
job training, financial literacy, parenting, tutoring, etc. All of these
wonderful programs are offered but are delivered in diverse ways. This
leads to mixed messages. If you have members from one refugee
community taking advantage of the services provided by many different
agencies, when the refugees come together the information they share will
inevitably be inconsistent creating confusion and skepticism. There needs
to be more inter-agency cooperation in developing cohesive programs and
methods of delivery regarding the vital information that is being conveyed
to the growing refugee populations in Denver.
Suggestions and Solutions
There are many steps that can be taken to increase efficacy at the
agency level regarding refugee orientation services. It seems that the lack
of cohesiveness occurring at the agency level is the challenge that can be
most easily addressed at the agency level. While there is definitely mutual
respect among the many agencies that provide services to the Denver

refugee populations, there is also a lack of cohesiveness which impacts the
manner and success in which orientation programs are provided to
refugees. There are a couple of ways the cohesiveness between agencies
could be improved. One idea is to put in place a forum for representatives
of the refugee agencies to meet and discuss any issues they are having both
internally and externally. This would create an open space in which
agencies could discuss aspects of refugee orientation with other agencies,
emphasizing what they feel to be a priority for their agency and learning
what other agencies find to be the most important issues and challenges.
Creating a forum for the many refugee agencies would create a space in
which agencies that are working towards the same end goal can pool their
varying experience, knowledge, and resources to come up with most
effective cultural orientation programs possible and best serve the refugee
The other suggestion that I would make to increase cohesiveness
and efficacy among agencies and orientation programs would be to
introduce more standardization regarding the information and programs
provided to refugees. I would like to use job training to illustrate this
point. Based on research and the interviews conducted with the agencies
spokespersons, job training is one orientation topic that is almost
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universally provided to refugees by agencies. If agencies were able to come
together, such as in the forums discussed above, and standardize the
information provided to refugees for job training, the cohesiveness would
increase among agencies. Not only would inter-agency relations improve,
but the challenge of refugees receiving mixed messages would be
addressed. Agency 3 feels that mixed messages create a problem for
refugees and the agencies who serve them. Refugees are getting a lot of
different information from varying sources; however, if information was
standardized among agencies, this problem would be much less
significant. It would be very difficult to standardize all information
provided to orient refugees given the varying beliefs of agencies, the
varying services they provide, and the different clients they serve. I do
think it would be both possible and beneficial for agencies to come
together and create standards for certain important aspects of refugee
orientation. While there are many other challenges faced at the agency
level, they require change at other levels in order to improve at the agency

Government Level Analysis
Problems and Challenges
In reading the body of literature available on refugees in the U.S.,
the services refugees receive, and the interviews conducted for this thesis,
it seems as though the government agencies are out of touch with the
reality of the refugee situation in the U.S. The government agencies that
deal with refugees, at both the state and federal level, receive data from the
agencies that are physically dealing with the resettled refugee populations.
The government agencies are making their decisions and allowances based
on numbers. This is not the way to produce the most positive results.
When dealing with people, especially a vulnerable population such as
refugees, who have endured trauma, violence, and displacement, there
needs to be something greater than numbers guiding decisions. The
government agencies need to assess if they are resettling and assisting
refugee population because it is the right thing to do or because it is
expected and a means of exerting political influence and favor both
domestically and internationally. If government agencies are involved in
resettling refugees because it is the right thing to do, then they need to
provide and allocate accordingly so programs can function at the level
refugee agencies think is most beneficial to the refugee populations.

Suggestions and Solutions
In order for change to occur on a large scale, state and local
governments need to reassess their commitment to the worldwide refugee
crisis. I am hopeful that recent events in the United States have laid the
foundation for this change. The U.S. people have recently elected a
president who sees value in bolstering the public service sector. Obamas
Universal and Voluntary Citizen Service Plan calls for the creation of the
Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Non-profits which will be dedicated to
building the competence and effectiveness of the non-profit sector (Obama
for America). This agency will handle: improving the federal government
programs which support non-profits, enhance the accountability of non-
profits, restructure the requirements and process of obtaining federal
grants and contracts, and make it easier for non-profits to participate in
government programs.
This agency will develop grants to build the infrastructure of the nonprofit
sector and the ability of nonprofit organizations to ensure accountability,
manage volunteers, and improve outcomes.
I think this plan sends a positive message to all people that the
attitude of the government is changing from static to innovative and
proactive regarding improving the non-profit sector, which would greatly

impact the orientation services these agencies will be able to provide to
While I am hopeful that the ideas and goals set forth in Obamas
plan will be realized, there are other suggestions that would have a positive
impact on the challenges faced at the government level regarding refugee
orientation services. I think it is important for the government, both
federal and state, to become connected with the refugee situation.
According to the agencies examined in this thesis, government offices
focus on statistics. While statistics are important they can not provide
decision makers with the complete information required to make
evaluations regarding the lives of refugees. I think it would be beneficial
for government agencies send employees to evaluate what is going on
regarding refugee education as opposed to focusing solely on statistics. In
addition I think it would be pertinent for the government to set up
councils or groups of refugees to advise the various agencies involved in
the refugee resettlement and orientation process. This would allow for
change to occur from the bottom up and give the refugees a voice in the
process that so deeply affects them. I think facilitating more interaction
between people would lead to more effective and compassionate decisions
being made at the various levels of government.

The Integration of Refugees and the Host Community
Problems and Challenges
This thesis has focused on the concept of acculturation, specifically
the integration of the refugee and host communities as the best outcome
for any community. Integration celebrates the preservation the minority
culture while adopting aspects of the host culture that can enrich the
minorities lives, as one agency described it, a two-way street. The
interviews conducted with the three refugee agencies indicate that these
agencies are committed to the goal of integration. The simple fact that
Denver has 59 agencies in place that assist refugees shows that there are
many people in the community who are vested in providing a welcoming
helpful environment for refugee populations. There are community
organizations and events, churches, and volunteers all working towards
the integration of refugees and celebrating the cultures that the refugees
bring with them. There are challenges to this integration, such as
legislation and ignorance, but there will always be challenges regarding the
integration of varying cultures. The Denver community is not perfect
regarding the acculturation of refugees, but despite the obstacles, there are
many people consistently working to improve the orientation process and
integration of refugees and the host community of Denver.

Suggestions and Solutions
I think that there are many ways to address the challenges faced as
the host community and refugee communities work towards integration in
Denver. A key strategy involves increasing the engagement of Denver
citizens with the refugee communities through the development of
additional community service opportunities in this area. I would like to
refer once more to the national service plan proposed by president-elect
Obama (Obama for America). This plan recommends a Social Investment
Fund Network which would work to improve local innovation, test the
impact of new ideas and expand successful programs through a network of
funds rooted in the private sector at the community level. Decisions will be
fixed at the local level such as cross-sector decisions in which local leaders,
including business, government, community organizations, and the target
beneficiaries would make funding decisions assisted by analytical experts.
Obamas plan also seeks to expand the ways in which people can
volunteer. Not only does he propose increasing AmeriCorps and the Peace
Corps, but he hopes to provide incentives to businesses and individuals to
encourage them to engage in community service. This plan envisions the
incorporation of service learning into the curriculum at various levels
within the U.S. education system. I think this is really important because

the significance of community service being instilled at a young age will
gradually change societys attitude of community service so it is seen as
beneficial to all members of society, the givers and the receivers. Refugee
agencies could make use of these initiatives to expand the participation of
citizens and businesses in community service by expanding volunteer
opportunities that bring the Denver community and refugees together.
There is currently a strong foundation of community participation
and outreach from certain areas of the community regarding refugee
orientation and acculturation. Many agencies work with Denver churches,
synagogues and mosques to facilitate integration and community service.
This is a great area of the community to draw upon, as faith communities
encompass a myriad of people, backgrounds, and cultures. I believe that
there needs to be more outreach to churches and other religious
organization on the part of refugee agencies.
Through increased outreach to faith communities, as well as to
schools and other community organizations, refugee agencies will
accomplish more than augmenting the number of volunteers that assist
them in meeting the needs of refugees. This outreach will also serve to
educate a broader cross-section of the Denver community on the needs
and aspirations of refugee populations in Denver. As more citizens become

aware of the refugee populations living in the Denver area, it is likely that
these citizens will develop more inclusive attitudes toward refugees and
travel down the two-way street of integration.
Refugee cultural orientation in the United States is an important
tool that has historically been seen as critical to the successful
acculturation of refugee population within their new and dominant
culture. Yet today the funding for cultural orientation is scarce and the
implementation is varied and inconsistent. This thesis has argued for the
need to increase funding levels and coordination among refugee agencies
in order to better serve refugee populations and promotion integration
among the refugee and host communities.
This thesis has also argued for the need for additional research on
the acculturation of refugees in the US. It is critical to continue building
on the previous research with each new wave and group of arriving
refugees. Additional research will build knowledge on the needs and issues
of refugees and factors that facilitate and impede a successful
acculturation process. This knowledge can be used by refugee agencies to
design more effective cultural orientation programs for refugees.

There is a vast amount of literature pertaining to refugees available;
however, very little concentrating on the importance of cultural
orientation of refugees within the United States. After trauma, upheaval,
and persecution, refugees face the daunting challenge of starting their lives
anew in an environment vastly different from what they have always
known. By looking at the importance of cultural orientation in conjunction
with acculturation theory, this thesis has attempted to illustrate the
necessity of in-depth cultural orientation of refugees, not only for the
benefit of the refugee populations, but for the host community and the
successful functioning of the Denver community as a whole.
The final chapter of this thesis offers some suggestions to more
effectively address the challenges faced by all regarding the cultural
orientation of refugees. It argues for an increase in the engagement of the
Denver community with refugee populations in order to provide the
refugee communities with the support they deserve and are entitled to in
order to become viable members within their new environment.

Informed Consent
Title of Research: Cultural Orientation of Refugees: Facilitating the Successful
Acculturation of Denvers Refugee Population
Investigator: Rachel Verbeek, Masters candidate Social Science at the University of
Colorado Denver.
Before agreeing to participate in this research interview, it is important that you read the
following explanation of this study. This statement describes the purpose, procedures,
benefits, risks, discomforts, and precautions of the project. No guarantees or assurances
can be made as to the results of the study. A copy of this research study will be provided
upon completion if requested.
Explanation of Procedures: This thesis study is being conducted to fulfill the degree
requirements for Master of Social Science through the University of Colorado Denver.
This thesis looks to how refugee populations are acculturating within their new
environments. This thesis is an attempt to analyze how cultural orientation programs
impact the acculturation process of refugees. This study reviews the research relevant in
the refugee resettlement field and presents theories of acculturation and its relation to
refugees. An interview will be conducted of a selection of the refugee service providers in
the Denver metro area to assess the acculturation process of refugees. The conclusions
are used to analyze how orientation programs for refugees impact acculturation.
The approach of this research is through an interview. This interview contains n
questions. This interview will be conducted in person or via email at the convenience of
the agency.
Risks and Discomforts: You will not be at physical or psychological risk and should
experience no discomfort resulting from completing this interview.
Benefits: There are no direct benefits by participating in this project. However, this
research is expected to provide knowledge about the delivery and content of cultural
orientation for refugees in Denver and provide insight into the successes and challenges
faced in the acculturation process associated with Denvers refugee population.
Alternative Procedures: There are no alternative procedures associated with this research
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Contact: If there are questions at any time please do not hesitate to contact Rachel
Verbeek at (303) 503-3007. The committee chair for this Masters thesis is Dr. Jana
Everett, University of Colorado Denver (303) 556-3513.
Withdrawal: Participation in this study is voluntary; refusal to participate will involve no
penalty. You are free to withdraw consent and discontinue participation in this research
study at any time.
Costs and/or Payments to Subject for Participation in Research: There will be no costs or
payments to the subject for participating in this research study.
Confidentiality Statement: This interview will be analyzed only by the researcher. The
information that is obtained from this interview will be discussed in the researchers
thesis project however; the identity of you and/or your agency will remain confidential
at all times. Each agency questioned will be identified solely by a number. The completed
questionnaire may be provided to University of Colorado Denver staff involved in the
review process of this thesis to verily validity. Beyond any potential verification, the
completed interview transcript will not be duplicated or distributed at any time. The
completed interview and informed consent will remain in the secure possession of the
researcher at all times in the future.
Agreement: This agreement states that this agency has received a copy of this informed
consent. I understand that by typing my name on the line below I am signing this form
and therefore am providing informed consent for this study.
Signature of Agency Representative
Agency Representative Name (printed)
Signature of Researcher
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Agency #