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A conceptual model of the retrospective accounts of Chinese adults who immigrated to Canada as children.


This phenomenological study explores the retrospective accounts of 11 Chinese immigrant adults (9 F, 2 M) who immigrated to Canada when they were children. Six categories and 31 themes were extracted during the analysis of the transcripts. The categories include: (a) Adjusting to a Different Culture; (b) Family; (c) Language; (d) Environment; (e) Friendships; and (f) Self and Identity. In addition to these six categories, two types of variables were discovered that affected the participants' attainment of a bicultural identity: moderating variables and aggravating variables. A conceptual model of the participant's experience was developed to reflect the process through which participants develop a bicultural identity. The means by which the model conceptualizes this process and its various components are discussed.


Cette etude phenomenologique examine les comptes-rendus retrospectifs de 11 immigrants chinois adultes (9 F, 2 H.) qui sont venus enfants au Canada. L'analyse des transcriptions a donne six categories et 31 themes. Les categories incluent a) un ajustement a une culture differente, b) la famille, c) la langue, d) l'environnement, e) l'amitie et f) le Soi et l'identite. Outre ces six points, nous avons decouvert deux types d'elements modificateurs qui ont eu un effet sur l'acquisition d'identites biculturelles : les uns, un effet moderateur, les autres, un aggravateur. Nous avons developpe un modele conceptuel de l'experience des participants afin de refleter le processus par lequel ces derniers ont atteint une identite biculturelle, et nous examinons la maniere dont ce modele conceptualise ce processus et ses diverses composantes.


What would it be like to enter a seemingly different world where your language, customs, culture, beliefs, and knowledge no longer serve to orient you as they once did? How do you adjust? How does this impact upon your identity? What if your identity is still in the process of being formed? These are all questions that pertain to the central question asked in this study: What are the retrospective accounts of Chinese adults who immigrated to Canada as children?

Canada is a distinct multicultural nation where retention of one's own ethnicity is said to be valued and respected. Two-thirds of the population growth in Canada between 2001 and 2006 was due to immigration (Chui et al. 2007), and of the estimated 1,110,000 newcomers, 21% were between ages birth to 14 (ibid.). Immigrant children are thus occupying an increasingly large proportion of the school population in Western industrialized nations (Aronowitz 1984; Schnaiberg 1997).


Research Regarding Immigrant Children in General

There is strong evidence suggesting that with a degree of ethnic-connectedness come disadvantages in educational and economic achievement (Kalbach and Kalbach 1995). Children who belong to a non-dominant group tend to experience lower selfesteem and less respect for their own ethnic or cultural identity compared to their dominant group peers (Keats 2000). Not surprisingly, immigrant children comprise a significant proportion of the children who are involved with school counsellors (Aronowitz 1984).

A complex relationship exists between migration and mental health, "varying with the social characteristics of the migrant, the social psychological dimensions of the circumstances of migration, and the characteristics of the culture of origin and destination" (ibid. 239). However, the experience of immigration ma), be especially stressful for children because they are still in the process of developing their personalities, and, therefore, will likely be impacted by their changing environment to a greater extent than adults (Eitinger 1981; Yu and Berryman 1996).

Immigrant children are also at risk because they have not yet completely developed efficient coping and defense mechanisms to respond to their stressors compared to many adolescent and adult immigrants (Akoodie 1984). The limited research on the process of immigration and acculturation for children suggests that children experience temporarily higher levels of emotional maladjustment, lower levels of acceptance by peers, and increasingly withdrawn behaviour when they immigrate (Aronowitz 1984; Kopala and Esquivel 1994; Sandhu 1997). Furthermore, immigrant children experience an increased incidence of behavioural disorders, and immigrant adolescents experience more identity conflicts compared to their non-immigrant peers when overall patterns of adjustment problems are examined (Aronowitz 1984). Aronowitz suggests that this increase in symptomatology may result from acculturation stress, where the immigration process upsets the cultural beliefs, values, and norms that fie families together.

Immigrant children are forced to continually interact with both their family and the host culture through attending school. Besides family influences, teachers and peers also begin to affect the formation of their sense of self (Akoodie 1984; Kuo 1974). Competing and conflicting ideologies between the family of origin and the host culture may create conflicts in either domain. Interacting with individuals outside the family circle may disrupt the family's traditional way of life and ways of relating to one another, whereas maintaining a strong family allegiance may result in segregation from the host society (Aronowitz 1984; Yu and Berryman 1996).

If immigrant children disregard their old cultural values by completely embracing the new culture, they may become alienated from their own subculture without even knowing if they will be accepted by the new culture (Aronowitz 1984). If they experience rejection by the host culture, they may feel ashamed for having relinquished the cultural identification they shared with their family in their attempt to "fit in." Consequently, these children often experience the adjustment process as troublesome, creating a sense of confusion, identity loss, and lack of belief in self (Akoodie 1984; Keats 2000). "The problem of children becomes that of living in two worlds: the home environment, in which they are seen as too Canadian, and the Canadian environment, in which they are seen as foreign" (Akoodie 1984, 254).

Despite these aforementioned difficulties, immigrant children have the potential to display positive functioning and a higher level of adjustment than their host culture peers (Aronowitz 1984; Akoodie 1984). Immigrant children can be resilient (Sung 1987), and they are able to adapt (Rakoff 1981), especially when factors that aid in their resiliency are present, such as: (a) the child's disposition; (b) having an internal locus of control and relaxed personality; (c) a supportive family environment; and (d) a good social support system (Jackson and Frick 1998).

An important mediating factor in adjusting to a new culture is the extent to which an immigrant embraces or rejects integration into the host culture. Research has shown that immigrants vary in the extent to which they strive to maintain the traditions and values of their home culture and the extent to which they adopt those of the host culture (Costigan and Su 2004). In Berry's (1980, 1990, 2003; Berry and Kim 1988; Berry et al. 1988; Ward and Kennedy 1994) theory of acculturation, two questions need to be addressed: the desire to maintain one's own cultural identity and the desire for interethnic contact that reflects a newcomer's degree of integration. The four levels are: (a) integration (i.e., "yes/yes" to these two questions); (b) assimilation ("no/yes"); (c) separation and/or segregation ("yes/no"); and (d) marginalization ("no/no").

Integrated individuals have harmoniously combined parts of the larger society into their existing identity (Eitinger 1981). Those who have assimilated have taken on the norms of the new culture so completely that they blend into their new environment. In the case of separation or segregation, individuals refrain from interethnic interaction, either by their own choice or by the dominant culture's choice. Finally, marginalization occurs when individuals desire neither to maintain their own cultural identity nor to interact with other cultural groups (Berry 1980, 1990; Berry and Kim 1988; Berry et al. 1988; Ward and Kennedy 1994).

Regardless of one's level of acculturation, however, research has shown that immigrant children often experience substantial struggles in the process of becoming acculturated. Although there is a common myth that Asian immigrants are successful when they move to the U.S., for example, acculturation stress has been well documented within this group (Sandhu 1997; Yu and Berryman 1996).

Research Regarding Immigrant Children from Asia

Given that Asia was ranked as the primary source area for immigration to Canada between 2001 and 2006 (58.3% of newcomers), with the People's Republic of China ranked as the number one source country (14% of newcomers) (Chui et al. 2007), there has been a dearth of research exploring the cultural identification of immigrant children in Canada (Akoodie 1984; Deng and Walker 2007). Researchers have tended to look at the experience of immigrant parents while excluding their children's experience (Aronowitz 1984; Lee and Chen 2000; Ming-Sum 1997; Sung 1985). Given the number of children immigrating to Canada, research focusing on their experience of acculturation is needed so that counsellors and others can more effectively help them with the process.

Cultural distance, or the level of dissimilarity between two cultures, is strongly associated with social difficulty, greater distress, and life changes (Searle and Ward 1990). Asian cultures--specifically Chinese culture--hold cultural beliefs, norms, and values which are very different from Western cultures like the Canadian and the American (Borke and Su 1972; Chataway and Berry 1989; Rosenthal and Feldman 1992). These differences include:

1. A Western worldview that promotes independence versus the Asian philosophy of interdependence or collectivism (Chan 1992; Hui and Villareal 1989; Triandis et al. 1988; Tung 2000).

2. The finding that gender roles are more traditional in Asian culture (Shon and Ja 1982; Tung 2000). Family structure is more vertical and hierarchical in Asian culture compared to the Western structure that views equality and democracy in the context of an authoritative parenting model as a family ideal (Keats 2000; Triandis et al. 1988).

3. The general tendency for Asian parents to set higher standards for academic excellence and achievement compared to Western parents (Chan 1992; Chinese Culture Connection 1987; Domino and Hannah 1987; Huntsinger et al. 1998; Huntsinger et al. 2000; Larson and Verma 1999; Lee and Zhan 1998; Li and Stodolska 2007; Lin and Fu 1990; Quoss and Zhao 1995; Rosenthal and Feldman 1990; Shon and Ja 1982; Sollenberger 1968; Sung 1987; Yao 1979).

4. The typically unidirectional model of communication from parent to child exhibited in Asian cultures (Chan 1992).

5. The more formalized rules of behaviour (Shon and Ja 1982; Sollenberger 1968) and increased indirect communication--both intended to avoid or reduce disharmony--found in Asian cultures (Triandis et al. 1988).

A 2004 study examined 96 immigrant Chinese families living in Canada (Costigan and Su). Of the 96 children (M = 11.86, SD = 1.76) who participated (one child from each family), 75% were born outside Canada and 25% were born in Canada. For the foreign-born children, their involvement in Canadian culture did not reduce their ethnic identity or their endorsement of traditional values. However, the Canadian-born childrens' involvement actually served to foster their sense of ethnic identity and their support for traditional values (ibid.).

Another recent study comparing 89 Canadian students of Chinese origin (63 born in Asia) to 81 students of other backgrounds found that the former reported higher levels of suicidality and hostility compared to the latter (Aubert et al. 2004). However, aggressive behaviours were less frequent among the Chinese Canadians; this was interpreted by the authors as reflective of the Chinese cultural norm of emotional restraint, particularly in reference to aggression (Aubert et al. 2004). Consequently, the Chinese students were deemed to be at higher suicide risk.

Studies have shown that immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan are more westernized and less traditional than newcomers from mainland China (Deng and Walker 2007; Yu and Berryman 1996). Furthermore, Chinese immigrants, particularly those from Hong Kong, often have some exposure to English before moving to Canada (Perunovic et al. 2005). Nonetheless, children from both Taiwan (based on self-report) and Hong Kong (based on observation) demonstrate lower self-esteem compared to Euro-American and Euro-Canadian children, respectively (Aubert et al. 2004).


The first author undertook a phenomenological study in the form of semi- structured interviews to explore the retrospective accounts of Chinese adults who immigrated to Canada as children. Phenomenology is a method that seeks to understand the experience of participants through an analysis of their descriptions of the phenomenon under investigation (Polkinghorne 1989).

Phenomenological inquiry was chosen as the research method because it (a) allowed for viewing the individual as the unit of analysis; (b) advocates for the use of in-depth interviews; and (c) focuses on retrospective reflection (Patton 2002). Furthermore, the semi-structured format allowed participants to discuss topics or experiences that might not be asked directly, and it also permitted the senior author greater flexibility in asking questions that would deepen understanding of their experience.


The first author interviewed 11 adult volunteers (9 M, 2 F) in Calgary, Alberta, who had the experience of being Chinese immigrant children in Canada. All participants spoke a Chinese language and identified themselves as Chinese. All had immigrated to Canada as children between the ages of 6 and 15, and all were able to understand and speak English fluently. The age range of participants was from 19 to 29, with a mean age of 22. Recruitment methods included snowball sampling and responses to notices posted at two postsecondary schools and at various cultural and counselling organizations in Calgary. Interviews continued until saturation of themes was attained (ibid.). Although representation from mainland China would have been desirable, the sampling methods used and the timeline for completion did not result in any participants. Instead, the final sample consisted of nine participants who had immigrated from Hong Kong and two who had immigrated from Taiwan.

Data Collection

The data was collected through the use of a semi-structured interview. Each interview concluded by ensuring that participants felt that the phenomenon had been described sufficiently, and they were provided the opportunity to add anything they thought was relevant. In addition to the semi-structured interview, participants completed a short demographic questionnaire.

Each interview was one-to-two hours in length, carried out by the first author and audiotaped on microcassette. Time was provided at the end of each interview to allow participants to debrief and to ask any further questions they had regarding the study.

Data Analysis

Interview transcripts were analyzed in accordance with Colaizzi's (1978) method, which includes the following seven steps:

1. Read all of the participant's descriptions to get a sense of their general meaning.

2. Return to each individual interview, extracting statements that are significant to the phenomenon being explored.

3. Formulate meanings from each of the significant statements extracted in step two.

4. Create a cluster of themes from the formulated meanings, returning to the original interviews to see if any data has been added or excluded, addressing any discrepancies.

5. Integrate the results into a comprehensive description of the phenomenon being investigated.

6. Create a statement identifying the fundamental structure of the description created in the previous step.

7. Validate the findings by returning to each participant and questioning them about the derived results. This was done over the phone, as well as electronically, in the current study in the form of a themes questionnaire.

From the results of the data analysis as well as from the participants' feedback, a tentative list of categories, themes, and sub-themes was created by the first author. Only themes that were supported by at least half of the participants' experiences, as indicated in the initial interviews and responses to the themes questionnaire, were included in the list.

In order to arrive at the "best fit" regarding the extracted themes and to triangulate the analysis (Patton 2002), both authors embarked on arranging the themes and deciding on relevant categories. This process also led to the development of the conceptual model that will be described later in the results section.


Six categories or thematic clusters were extracted during the analysis of the transcripts. These categories offer an overarching structure or framework reflecting the experience of participants in their process of developing a bicultural identity. The categories include: (a) Adjusting to A Different Culture; (b) Family; (c) Language; (d) Environment; (e) Friendships; and (f) Self and Identity. Within these categories, 31 themes and several sub-themes emerged (see appendix). In addition to these six categories, two variables were extracted that affected the participants' attainment of a bicultural identity: moderating variables and aggravating variables.

Categories and Themes

Adjusting to a Different Culture

Adjusting to a different culture was one of the most prominent adjustments the participants needed to make after immigrating to Canada. Many said that certain values, beliefs, and expectations of their Chinese culture were often in opposition to Western values. This presented a problem as to how to integrate or find a balance between the two, which for most was their ultimate goal.

I start to learn that women has the right to speak up, because you know how women are playing a lower role in Chinese culture. You know I think I still adopt that today somehow. Like ... I would tend to be more submissive to my boyfriend or my husband ... because of the culture ... and I know that Caucasians don't behave that way, I should say that it's more equal between the partners ... so I'm struggling between my Chinese culture and, you know, the Western view that you should be equal to him, like, if he goes out with his friends, I can also go out with mine. I don't have to wait for him to come home and cook dinner for him, you know ... do all that stuff. (Bugs, age 26)

I think the people here is more open, like, especially in ... more sexual kind of thing, but ... I still think of, like, traditional ways, but just get used to watching people, like, kissing ... in the street, and I don't used to this kind of thing when I am in Hong Kong. (Wing, age 21)


Many participants had to leave their extended family behind in their native country, and some already had other family members residing in Canada. Once in Canada, many participants also round that the relations between the members in their family changed. For some, a stronger sense of closeness developed in which family members relied on each other for support while adjusting to their new life in Canada. For others, however, the stress of the immigration process seemed to create more tension and conflict within the family.

I had a lot of nightmares that first night ... about my grandma, back having left her in Hong Kong, and ... actually the nightmares really stood out. (Olivia, age 22)

Good thing my cousin was here ... she came here when she was in grade one so she helped me a lot. (Samantha, age 20)

My dad ... he had a very hard time adjusting, so he was more ... irritable than usual, and, like, a little thing will set him off, the littlest things ... and the kids also got more aggressive ... I guess all our anger, all the anger from the kids, they are more directed to my dad because he's more irritable and so that sets us off, too ... and the kids also turn on the kids ... and it is a lot more fights than usual among the kids. (Adam, age 19)

I'm ... a part of this society ... and sometimes there's still problems that we need to cope with as a new immigrant, so, when there are families around and you know that they'll always be there to support, and that feels much better. (Jackie, age 20)


The third category involves one of the greatest challenges experienced by participants in immigrating to Canada: learning a new language very different from their own. The participants regarded this as of the utmost importance to their adjustment. By coming to Canada as children, they needed to understand and communicate in English to be successful in school. Without being able to speak English, it was difficult for the participants to participate in school activities, to convey meaning including even their most basic needs, to those around them, as well as to become involved with their peers and make new friends.

I think sometimes ... like you have discussions ... in class and stuff. Sometimes I would feel I wouldn't want to answer some questions or ask questions because ... I think I have an accent and ... I'm afraid people would, like, you know, laugh or stuff, and it feels like they have really strong language skills and I don't. (Julie, age 22)

Like, you know, how in junior high the teacher asks you to read the text book, like, person by person? I can't do that. (Samantha, age 20)

If I was more fluent in English, I would get ... more friends at least ... I don't know, maybe easier to address. (Kate, age 21)

The more you want to talk to other people the more you, I don't know, tongue tied. It's just the ... whole communication thing was big ... it was a big problem for me. (Adam, age 19)


Things such as the weather, buildings, space, the population, and the type of people living in Canada were just some of the differences that stood out for participants. Most found these differences to be exciting and favourable compared to their homeland, as well as less difficult to adjust to than cultural differences. Participants also noticed immediately that almost everything in the school system was different in their eyes, from the way the classroom was organized, to the type of work assigned, expectations, and teaching style. Although many found that they preferred the Canadian school system to that in their homeland, it nevertheless required adaptation.

Freezing, and it's not so crowded, and the environment's really good, people are really different, I remember first day of school I asked my classmates, "Can I touch your hair?" and they were, like, looking at me weird, and they say, "Yeah, go ahead." (Jackie, age 20)

It's a lot less populated then I thought cause I came from a very densely populated area.... Oh, the snow ... peaking through the windows and ... nothing but white stuff, and I was, like, "Oh no! We're going to live here?" (Adam, age 19)

Stairs, because we didn't have stairs in Hong Kong, and I remember running up and down the stairs. (Olivia, age 22)

Here ... it's really open and ... students ... can talk to teachers really freely. There you always respect the teacher ... you don't talk.... so they talk and you listen. Here ifs more ... mutual communication. (Julie, age 22)

I feel much better ... cause in Hong Kong ... Chinese people are pretty conservative ... compared to the education system here to Hong Kong ... I like it here much better because it's much more open and ... we have more variety of teaching people, instead of in Hong Kong, they just start lecturing ... and ... memorizing, but here there lots of activities ... we can actually practice what we learned ... and we have much better material here. (Evelyn, age 20)


In general, participants initially felt a sense of loss for the friends that they had to leave behind when they immigrated, and for most, a lack of ability to speak English when they first arrived created a language barrier between themselves and their Western English-speaking peers that made it difficult for them to make new friends in Canada. Although their ability to make new friends in Canada improved as they improved their English language skills, there was still a general feeling among participants that it was easier for them to make friends with other Chinese children than with their Western peers, largely because there were more similarities in background and a higher level of comfort in relating to one another. However, regardless of who the friends were, having friends in Canada aided in helping participants to feel more accepted into the new culture and environment and often served to increase their level of confidence both in themselves and in their ability to adapt to their new life in Canada.

For me it [feeling loss] was my friends. We lost touch. Well, ... we had letters, we were writing letters but ... that stopped ... I don't know, that stopped within the sixth month in Canada and just stopped and that was it, that was like the end of our communication, and I lost all my friends, and I guess all my friends in Taiwan, I don't think they remember me at all now. (Adam, age 19)

It was difficult to make friends except for the ... friends I have in the ESL classroom ... and even those and, you know it's hard for us to talk, too, in the ESL classroom ... because we have a hard time expressing ourselves. (Bugs, age 26)

After a few years ... when I started to pick up the language and ... how to play the games that the other kids play ... that solved the problem [of feeling alienated]. (Bugs, age 26)

Self and Identity

For participants, immigrating to a new country necessarily brought up some issues regarding how they would identify themselves as they entered this new world. Some participants felt that, at times, it was hard for their Western peers to understand them and their cultural background. Sometimes participants were also teased, often solely because of their being Chinese, which only served to exacerbate their feeling of being different and resulted in self-consciousness and, at times, feelings of inferiority.

Many participants said that, as a result of their efforts to try to fit in, sometimes they began to feel different, not only from Canadian culture, but from their own Chinese culture as well.

Sometimes because ... Chinese people do things differently than other people do, sometimes they come up with things like "God this girl's dumb".... I think they just don't understand what Chinese people do, so sometimes when they see something that is not what they normally do, they will kind of be, like, "This girl's dumb" and "Why would she do something like this? Like this is Canada right?" (Evelyn, age 20)

For me it was ... as a child, it was important to fit in and it was hard because you didn't know how. (Olivia, age 22)

Going to my sister's they think I am like a whitewash. I am not a whitewash....The terminology means ... you're very ... Westernized.... They think I'm really Westernized because I listen to Western music and I ... watch Western shows, and I don't like some of the Chinese shows because ... they love Chinese soap opera.... But I ... just don't like that, I don't know why, and then ... they always watch Chinese movies and I just don't like the Chinese movies ... I just don't like the movies from Hong Kong ... and then they practice some Chinese traditions and I don't, nothing specific.... I don't know, I just don't really practice and ... then they think I'm very Westernized, but my friends think I am a F.O.B. ["fresh off the boat"--referring to someone who is not at all Westernized]. I'm very Chinese, and I do Chinese stuff, and I don't know, it just, I don't know ... where I stand, you know there's ... all these people think I'm Westernized and then all these people think I'm a F.O.B. (Adam, age 19)

Moderating Variables

Moderating variables are factors that help the adjustment or acculturation to proceed. The factors that helped participants' acculturation included: (a) being younger; (b) being open minded; (c) having increased contact with Canadians; (d) dealing with acculturation issues as they arose; and (e) receiving extra help when needed.

I would say fast [how the adjustment to living in Canada felt] because ... I was young during that time, and I adapt to that environment pretty fast than what I ... imagine. (Coby, age 22)

We will exchange gifts in Christmas, we don't normally do that in Hong Kong and...we will give ourselves some time off, because in Hong Kong we don't really do that, we just work always through almost twenty-four seven, but in here we kind of, like, we need to take a week off and just go to other places to see what nice places are out there, so we will do that right in every July and August. (Evelyn, age 20)

We lived downtown for about a year and a half, and so during that time I probably didn't progress very much because my friends were speaking Chinese and ... I didn't have too much exposure to Canadians, but then we moved to the suburbs, and then the school that I went to didn't have any Chinese-speaking kids and no ESL programs, so I had to ... learn it really quick. (Horse, age 29)

Aggravating Variables

Aggravating variables are factors that may hinder the process of adjustment or acculturation. The factors that hindered participants' acculturation process included: (a) homesickness; (b) feeling pressured to acculturate; (c) experiencing racism and discrimination; and (d) stereotyping Canadians and their culture.

For the first few months when I was in Montreal, I felt pretty lonely because I ... don't speak French at all at the time and ... at school I don't really make friends because ... most are French-Canadian ... I also, I missed my friends so much, and ... I kept crying for a few days. (Kate, age 21)

It felt like they [Western peers] were talking about me, and then during recess I heard somebody call me "chink," I didn't know what "chink" meant until I went to my teacher and asked him about it, and ... another time ... I was walking on the street and ... it was ridiculous cause it was a family car, a family ... in the car and then the more, well, it appears to be the mom, she rolled down her window with the kids at the back and she yelled out of the window and called me a "chink." (Adam, age 19)

How people dress, or people talk, especially in high school because students are not so ... they don't aware that they've set up a model for new immigrants, and for high school students, I look at them and say, "Oh, this is Canadian" but ... it's not, not all Canadian look like this. It's just the students, the typical Canadian student that behave like this. (Jackie, age 20)

Development of a Bicultural Identity

While the two authors worked at establishing the best fit for the themes and extracting the categories from this analysis, they concluded that the results could effectively be represented in a conceptual model. Figure 1 diagrammatically represents the development of the participants' bicultural identity. As indicated in the figure, the categories within the cylinder are not hierarchical, but instead are intended to reflect the interconnectedness of the categories and the movement that occurs over time from the traditional scripts of their original culture (i.e., "old home") to the increasing influence of the host culture (i.e., "new home").

The cylindrical shape of the model is representative of a continuous and circular process in which the concepts of both "Old Home" and "New Home" simultaneously play a role. The process begins at the bottom of the cylinder when the child first immigrates to Canada. At this point both the old home--their native country--and the new home--Canada--play a role in the child's life. However, the old home is more prominent, since it is the only life and environment that the child has known up to this point.


As depicted on the left side of the cylinder, the acculturative growth process proceeds in an upward direction. As the child engages in this process, s/he encounters issues within the six categories of acculturation previously described. These areas are aligned in the centre of the model to indicate that each area contains aspects of both the old home and the new home that must be addressed and integrated in order for acculturation to occur. The dotted line signifies that the separation of old home from new home is not a distinct one, but that, rather, there may be some overlap accompanying the encountered differences or discrepancies.

Old home and new home are still present at the top of the cylinder and are influential in the child's life; however, once the child has gone through the acculturative growth process, the new home becomes more prominent (i.e., the primary focus is now on their new life in Canada). Represented by its position at the top of the cylinder, the ultimate goal of the acculturative growth process in this model is for the child to achieve the development of a bicultural identity through finding a balance between the two cultures and integrating the old home and the new home into his/her identity.

I think I've been able to find a balance, mainly actually from education, knowing that part of being a Canadian is to embrace individuality and to be independent, at the same time you have to have those social values of giving back to the community and ... doing things not just for yourself, but I sometimes, I see that as more as like the values of my family and my friends and something that comes ... from my culture. (Olivia, age 22)

I just think it's two different things and I take some traditional values and some of the Canadian stuff. (Evelyn, age 20)

The way in which the moderating and aggravating variables are represented in the diagram--progressing upwards in the cylinder alongside all of the categories-reflects the idea that both have the potential to impact upon each of the six areas, and both are involved in the progression through the acculturative growth process.


The participants' experiences described in this study reveal an inside look at the retrospective accounts of Chinese immigrant adults who immigrated to Canada when they were children, and serve to highlight the complexities of the adjustment experience involved in the acculturative growth process. What emerged was an acculturative growth process whereby both moderating and aggravating variables acted upon participants as they dealt with a number of issues represented by the six categories of adjusting to a different culture, family, language, environment, friendships, and self and identity.

As participants acculturate, they move from having their old home being most prevalent in their lives towards their new home becoming their primary focus, although neither is ever lost. The end result of the acculturation growth process for participants in this research was the development of a bicultural identity, representing their own unique balance of Chinese and Canadian integration. Figure 1 offers a conceptual model portraying this process. The findings of this study and the conceptual model add to the current literature by providing a deeper understanding of the issues and the process by which Chinese immigrant children acculturate to living in Canada.

The most obvious limitation of the current study is that the data was based on retrospective accounts of Chinese adults who immigrated to Canada as children. Retrospective accounts are contaminated to some extent by inaccurate recollections and pseudo-memories. A strength of this approach, however, is that a more expensive and time-consuming longititudinal design is not always feasible and is generally not considered in exploratory qualitative designs. A different and more accurate picture of acculturation might result from interviewing Chinese immigrant children, perhaps at various intervals following their arrival to Canada. However, recent research looking at the acculturation of Chinese immigrant families found similar results, indicating that Chinese immigrant children made efforts to acculturate to the host culture while also valuing the maintenance of their own ethnic identity and values (Costigan and Dorkis 2006), and that the development of this bicultural identity is related to a positive adjustment experience (Lu 2001).

Although the conceptual model found in figure 1 was inductively derived from the results of this study, generalizability is not a goal of qualitative research (Patton 2002). The model fits well for the 11 individuals who participated in this study, but the authors do not claim that the results will extrapolate to other Chinese adults who immigrated to Canada as children.

Snowball sampling relies on interpersonal relations and social networks (Browne 2005), which sometimes results in the creation of a homogeneous sample, but in other instances, produces a sample with individuals who would otherwise not be found or who would not participate (ibid. 2005; He et al. 2008). None of the participants in the current study came from mainland China, and studies have shown that immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan are more Westernized and less traditional than newcomers from the mainland (Deng and Walker 2007; Yu and Berryman 1996). Consequently, the immigration experience for mainlanders may be even more difficult than what the current study reveals about Chinese immigrants. Further studies will need to verify if the conceptual model has heuristic value to other Chinese immigrants, particularly those from mainland China.

Two potential biases may have affected participants' responses to the interview as well: (a) the semi-structured interview format used in the study; and (b) the fact that the interviewer was Caucasian and not Chinese. Because participants were given the opportunity to discuss and share anything that they desired, and given that participants brought up themes that independently reoccurred in different interviews, this effect is viewed as minimal. Regarding the second potential bias, the first author is married to a Chinese who also had the experience of being an immigrant child in Canada, and this information was shared with participants at the outset. Good rapport was also established with each participant, so interviewer effects are also considered to have had negligible effects on the outcome of the study.

Lastly, although not planned, participants in this research all appeared to fall under the "yes/yes" category in response to Berry's (1980, 1990, 2003) model of acculturation, indicating that integration had occurred. Individuals who fall under any of the other three categories of assimilation, separation and/or segregation, or marginalization may have a different experience or recollection of what it was like for them to immigrate to Canada as children. This possibility would need to be taken into consideration when conducting further research.


Several implications for counsellors are suggested by the findings of this study. Counsellors need to be aware of the challenges faced by immigrant children in their new life in Canada, both inside as well as outside the school system. They need to learn about the cultural background of such children to understand the differences and potential conflicts and issues that these children may face in the process of adjustment. The counsellor may act as the one person within the host culture who helps the child feel understood in this strange new land, and who helps the child begin the often difficult journey of developing an integrated bicultural identity. Suggestions for how a counsellor might become involved include: (a) providing emotional support to the child by being there for the child to talk to; (b) acting as a liaison between the teacher and child to increase the teacher's ability to understand and address the child's struggles and needs in the school environment; (c) promoting activities, such as in-school culture days or activities, where children teach each other about their respective cultures to encourage acceptance; and (d) addressing the parents to inform them of the issues their child might be facing, how these issues differ from their own transition process due to the child's stage of development, and what they might do to acknowledge their child's situation and make it a more positive experience.

Counsellors should also emphasize appreciation and acceptance of diversity. Participants not only expressed a strong awareness of racism and discrimination directed towards themselves; some also expressed reverse racism/discrimination from within their own ethnic community towards non-Chinese individuals.

Counsellors can play a key role in helping children and adults alike to stop stereotyping and to start embracing those who would otherwise become targets for the seeds of prejudice and the germination of discrimination.

Categories, Themes, and Sub-Themes Derived from Participants'
Interviews *


1. Cultural Differences and Discrepancies

a. Traditional vs. laissez-faire parenting styles
b. Traditional vs. liberal gender roles
c. Strict vs. permissive behaviour expectations
d. Traditional vs. liberal value systems
e. Eastern values of collectivism vs. Western values of
f. Conventional views vs. openness regarding sexuality

2. Greater Difficulty Adjusting to Internal Cultural Traits That
Are Central to One's Sense of Self than to External Cultural Traits

3. Maintaining Heritage Culture
a. Feelings about membership in heritage culture
b. Availability of means to maintain heritage culture in Canada
c. Family's maintenance of heritage culture


4. Sense of Loss for Family Left Behind in Heritage Country:
   Ability/Inability to Maintain Contact
5. Family Already Residing in Canada Helpful in Adjustment
   as an Existing Support Network
6. Experiencing a Change in Relations among Family Members:
   Increased Closeness or Conflict
7. Family Support is Helpful in Adjustment Process
8. Influence of Parental Views and Expectations Regarding
   Canadian Culture and Adjustment on Children
9. Accepting Adult Responsibilities and Taking Care of Parents
   When Language is an Issue


10. Learning to Communicate in a New Language is Central to
    Adjustment: School Adjustment and Making Friends
11. Language Ability: Possessing Basic Knowledge of English
    Rather than Fluency
12. Difficulty Understanding and Communicating in English
13. Retention of Heritage Language Abilities: Losing Some
    Ability with Increased Adjustment
14. Improvement of Language Abilities with Time and Practice

a. English as a second language (ESL) classes are beneficial
b. Individual initiatives to cope with and improve language skills
c. Increased confidence and comfort with improved language skills


15. Living in Different Physical Surroundings and Environment
16. Encountering a Different School System


17. Loss of Old Friends
18. Making New Friends

a. Language skills
b. Having an English name
c. Opportunity for interaction
d. Easier to make friends with other Chinese children
e. Making new friends enhances feelings of acceptance
   into new culture


19. Feeling Different from Western Peers

a. Diversity in physical appearance
b. Cultural diversity in values, beliefs, and behaviours
c. At times feeling misunderstood by members of the host culture
d. Teased or made fun of by peers
e. Self-consciousness

20. Wanting to Fit In and Be Accepted by Peers
21. Periods of Feeling Confused and as Though Do Not Fit
    into Either Culture
22. Changes in Self-Identification: Monocultural to
    Bicultural Identity


23. Rate of Adjustment: The Younger One Is the Easier and
    Quicker the Adjustment Process
24. Becoming Open to Canadian Culture through Adoption of
    Traditions and Activities Practiced in Canada
25. Increased Interaction with Canadians and Canadian Culture
    Promotes Increased Rate of Adjustment
26. Helpful to Address Issues Encountered during the
    Acculturative Growth Process
27. Receiving Extra Help to Adjust is Beneficial


28. Homesickness

a. Sense of loss and sadness
b. Coping by involving self in new culture

29. Feeling Pressured to Fit into Canadian Lire and Culture
30. Racism and Discrimination

a. Subtle and overt expressions of racism and discrimination
b. Racial/cultural racism and discrimination
c. Lack of skill and experience with racism/discrimination: not knowing
   what to do
d. Coping with racism and discrimination

31. Stereotyping Canadians and Canadian Culture

* Due to space limitations, exemplars are provided for the eight major
categories and not the 31 themes and sub-themes in the text. The
exemplars chosen, however, do collectively highlight much of the
content of these themes and sub-themes.


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LORI L. MAC has an M.Sc. from the University of Manitoba and a Ph.D. from the University of Calgary with a specialization in counselling psychology. Her research interests lie in acculturation and diversity, as well as in premarital and marital/relationship counselling. She is a registered psychologist in Manitoba and employed at the University of Manitoba Student Counselling and Career Centre, where she provides individual, group, and couples therapy, and is in involved in training and supervision.

KEVIN G. ALDERSON is an Associate Professor of counselling psychology at the University of Calgary. He was the head of counselling and health services at Mount Royal College in Calgary and has been a licensed psychologist since 1986. He has authored seven books and written several journal articles.
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Author:Mac, Lori L.; Alderson, Kevin G.
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
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Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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