Navigating Multiple Worlds: Experiences of stress from the perspective of immigrant youth




Fletcher, Sarah Chisholm

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Immigrant youth face uncertainty in many aspects of their lives. Most have little control over their family’s decision to immigrate and once they arrive, many encounter challenges. The Navigating Multiple Worlds project worked with a group of youth researchers to explore the relationship between stress, resilience and expressions of subjectivity among immigrant youth. Moving beyond the negative conceptualizations of stress and acculturative stress that dominate the literature, this research gathered youth perspectives on stress and what could be done to enhance supports for immigrant youth in Victoria. Through our participatory approach, the youth research team was involved in the design and implementation of interviews, focus groups and finally a photovoice exercise. Our methodology sought to highlight narrative complexities and the fluidity of experiences, with the research team reflecting on their own experiences while gathering perspectives on stress from other immigrant youth. The benefits and challenges of working in participatory paradigms with youth and the value of arts based methods for capturing youth voices and creating ‘thinking spaces’ for community engagement are highlighted. Historically, research has problematized immigrant youth identities. A focus on immigrant youth perspectives reveals that while many youth face challenges after immigration, they also emphasize the value of flexibility in self-definition. The combination of our methods, participatory approach, our focus on youth voices and taking an ethnographic approach to documenting experiences of stress, contributed to the distinctiveness of our findings. Considering stress as an idiom of narrative expression rather than an index of negative experience, acknowledges its place as part of the worldview of the participants, who use the term in multiple ways. The physicality of stress, the spatial and temporal dimensions of stress and ‘everyday stressors’ emerged from our analysis as thematic categories that describe the ways that youth experience ‘stress’. The findings of the Navigating Multiple Worlds project speak to the value of conceptualizing stress as a narrative idiom. Over the course of our research it became apparent that youth were talking about stress in ways that allowed them to discuss and normalize negative experiences, re-framing experiences of ‘stress’ in positive terms. For many, this facilitated fluid movement from a focus on challenges to a focus on coping and resilience. Our research suggests that while conflicting expectations in the lives of immigrant youth are sources of ‘stress’ for many, they can also be understood as key ‘sites of flexibility’. The processes of negotiation that occur in these ‘sites of flexibility’, as youth use the language of stress to name challenging experiences and overcome them, contribute to the resilience of youth. Although our findings are specific to a small group of immigrant youth in Victoria, BC, considering stress as an idiom of resilience as well as distress creates opportunities to recognize and enhance the strengths of immigrant youth and the supports available to them. Recommendations from our research in terms of service provision, supports, and participatory research with youth are provided, as well as suggestions for future research in anthropology related to immigrant youth and stress.



Immigrant youth, Stress, Resilience, Participatory Research, Arts Based Methods, Photovoice, Youth Mental Health, medical anthropology