Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 5-10-2019


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counseling, Psychology, & Special Education


School of Education

Committee Chair

Waganesh Zeleke

Committee Member

Matthew Joseph

Committee Member

Jocelyn Gregoire

Committee Member

Matthew Walsh


Acculturation, Dynamic Acculturation, Trauma, Resilience, Refugees, Interpersonal Skills, Community Support, Lived Experience.


Refugees are vulnerable populations who experience premigration traumatic events and postmigration acculturation stress. While research on immigrant mental health issues has been plentiful, there has been a clear lacuna of scholarly investigation into the acculturation experiences of Syrian emerging adults, particularly as it relates to the types and dynamics of acculturation behaviors. Acculturation is a factor that predicts emerging adults’ academic and occupational success and their interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.

This qualitative investigation was conducted within the framework of interpretative phenomenology, which allows for meaningful, organic exploration and description of participants’ stories. Data were collected from 12 emerging adult Syrian refugees who were at least 18 years of age. The participants were recruited in the greater Pittsburgh area via a local organization working with Syrian refugees, in-person conversations, and the use of purposive and snowball sampling. Semistructured in-depth interviews, observations, and a reflective journal were used for assistance in analyzing the data.

The inquiry examined and presented various theories to offer a comprehensive background related to this topic. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development (1979) was used to examine the experience of emerging adult refugees and the impact of acculturation on the individual’s microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. Additionally, InterpretativePhenomenology Analysis (IPA) was used as a theoretical framework to understand and analyze the data collected. IPA aims to understand how people create meaning from these experiences.

After analyzing the emergent themes resulting from the data collection process, the findings suggested that the acculturation behavior of Syrian emerging adult refugees is shaped by their encounters before, during, and after refugee settlement. Their acculturation behavior appears to be described better as "dynamic". The most ubiquitous dynamic acculturation behavior was characterized by constant progress and effective change, promoting positive personality growth among refugees and immigrants. Dynamic acculturation provides a broader set of strategies utilized by an individual. The findings also indicated that the participants’ interpersonal skills and community support were factors that promote health dynamic acculturation behavior. The data indicated that interpersonal skills, such as holding positive attitudes, resilience, self-learning, and social skills, were used to facilitate dynamic acculturation. The community support that was provided by the family, neighbors, friends, teachers, and coworkers promoted dynamic acculturation among emerging adult Syrian refugees.

These exploratory research findings have suggested multiple factors that affect how emerging adult Syrian refugees developed acculturation behaviors and viewed the process of their acculturation to American culture. This inquiry aimed to encapsulate how past and present traumas have been integrated into the lived experiences of Syrian emerging adults and to illuminate the effects of traumatic experiences on their acculturation behaviors. The current research indicated that trauma effects are transmitted via the acculturation process, which become manifested in the emerging adults’ acculturation behaviors and which can be better understood within the Syrian community cultural context. Notably, risk and protective factors were identified, as well as a commonly incorporated coping mechanism, within the Syrian emerging adult acculturation experience, which could prove particularly useful for counselors who work with clients in this population.