Difficulties of a Child in a Foreign Linguistic Environmentadmin / January 2, 2019
One of foremost characteristics of today’s post-industrial living is the dramatically increased degree of populations’ mobility, reflected by exponentially mounting rates of inbound immigration in just about every Western country.
As it was pointed out by Neumayer (2005): “Total [immigration] applications in Europe increased tremendously from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, from a total of 592,000 to 2.65 million, falling somewhat during the latter half of the 1990s but staying at a fairly high level of 1.93 million” (45).
And, given the fact that, as of today, Western societies’ demographic fabric undergoes a rapid transformation, this poses an additional challenge to maintaining these societies’ inner integrity.
The reason for this is simple – as practice shows, newly arrived immigrants (especially those from Third World countries) often experience severe hardships, while trying to acclimatize, which in its turn, lessens their chances to become productive citizens.
After all, as Katz and Lowenstein (1999) had rightly noted: “Immigration involves a permanent change not only in place of residence but, even more significantly, in lifestyle, values, norms, and language” (43). Nevertheless, it is namely immigrants’ children who appear especially vulnerable to being exposed to drastic changes in culturally linguistic environment, because unlike adults, they often lack the full spectrum of cognitive and analytical capacities, which would have smoothed up the process of their acclimatization.
Given the fact that in children’s lives, the factor of emotional attachment plays rather important role, it comes as not a particular surprise that, after having immigrated to a new country, along with their parents, children often end up indulging in socially withdrawn mode of existence. According to Aronowitz (1984): “Children who moved [due to immigration of their parents] were generally found to be more withdrawn and less well accepted by their peers.
They were also rated by their teachers as being more emotionally maladjusted” (240). At the same time, it would be wrong to assume that, due to earlier mentioned adjustment-related considerations, immigrant youth should be thought of as being necessarily disadvantaged, in social sense of this word.
After all, according to recent statistical surveys, the foreign-born children of Asian immigrants to America, often account for as much 40% of country’s student population, majoring in math, physics, chemistry and software designing.
According to Brandon (2002): “Research suggests that many of the concerns about the well-being of children in immigrant families are unwarranted. The evidence suggests that children in immigrant families do as well as or better than U.S.-born children” (417).
Therefore, it will only be logical, on our part, to assume that along with factors that hamper immigrant children’s chances to attain social prominence in newly acquired home countries, there are also factors that provide these children with certain advantage, during the course of them trying to get a good education and to establish themselves socially.
In this paper, we will aim to explore what accounts for these factors at length and to come up with the set of recommendations as to what we believe should represent research-priorities, regarding the discussed subject matter, in the future.
Ever since late sixties, when immigration policies in most Western countries have been conceptually revised, in order for them to be correlative with governmentally endorsed policy of multiculturalism, the immigration pattern to these countries have undergone a substantial transformation.
In his article, Zhou (1997) provides us with the insight onto the qualitative essence of such a pattern, as applied to U.S: “According to the Immigration and Nationalization Service, of the 7.3 million immigrants admitted to the United States during the 1980s (not counting undocumented immigrants), 87% came from Asia and the Americas, compared to the 8.8 million admitted during the 1910s who were predominantly from Europe” (65).
The implications of such an apparent demographic shift in recent immigration patterns are quite obvious – unlike what it is usually being the case with European immigrants to America and other Western countries, the growing number of immigrants from Third World now face an acute challenge of adjusting to the cultural matrix of Western living.
The reason for this simple – given the fact that the bulk of newly arrived immigrants come from essentially traditional societies, they experience a particularly hard time, while trying to adjust to clearly defined secular (post-industrial) realities of today’s Western living. And, it is needless to mention, of course, that these people’s children experience similar problems, as well.
According to Hernandez (1999): “Research suggests that immigrant children experience acculturative stress as they adjust to a foreign culture, learn a new language, and try to fit into mainstream youth society” (303). The validity of this statement is best illustrated in regards to children from families of Pakistani immigrants.
Whereas; in Pakistan, these children have been taught to respect parental authority as their foremost priority in life, after having found themselves in a new country, Pakistani adolescents ended up being taught something entirely different – namely, the fact that, according to Western secular law, parents are being simply in no position to forcibly expose their children to different forms of religious or culturally religious dogmatism.
In their article, where they discuss adjustment-related challenges, faced by children from families of Pakistani immigrants in Canada, Wakil and Wakil (1981) state: “[In Canadian schools] Pakistani children were allowed considerable freedom, while choosing in favor of a professional career…
Compared with the practices in the ‘old country’, where the older male wields the final authority in deciding the amount of education and the type of occupation for the youngsters, this change indicates a rather remarkable departure from the traditional pattern” (933).
In other words, regarding the children of Pakistani immigrants, there can be very little doubt as to the fact that the manner in which they are being brought up in Western countries’ public schools differs rather dramatically from the manner of their domestic upbringing. It goes without saying, of course, that this exposes these children to a certain cognitive dichotomy, which in its turn, slows down the process of their assimilation.
The same suggestion applies to children from families of Latin-American immigrants. Apparently, while being exposed to the realities of Western living, these children also get to experience the sensation of emotional uncomfortableness with the fact that the lifestyles of their newly acquired peers do not correlate with the ‘traditional values’, which are being usually professed by their parents.
In his book, Artico (2003) was able to define the actual root of an earlier mentioned inconsistency with perfect clarity: “The traditional Western culture gives much value to personality traits associated with individualism, such as self-confidence and independence, whereas Latino culture is sociocentric, placing great importance in interpersonal obligation, respect for others, and personal dignity, usually expressed through proper demeanor” (34).
Thus, without denying the fact that there is a number of cultural obstacles, on the way of immigrant children integrating into a host society, it appears that very often, the foremost obstacle represent these children’s parents, due to the sheer extent of their intellectual inflexibility.
Nevertheless, as today’s Western socio-political realities indicate, the cultural aspect of immigrant children’s assimilation continue to become less acutely defined, which can be explained by the essence of demographic dynamics with Western societies.
In the article, from which we have already quoted, Zhou states: “Many immigrant children attend public schools in their neighborhood with a clear numerical majority of minority students.
In Los Angeles County, for example, 57 unified school districts out of a total of 83 contain over half of foreign-born nonwhite students” (59). Thus, there are good reasons to believe that in very near future, immigrant children will experience less and less difficulties, while trying to adjust to the cultural workings of a host society.
What also appears to affect the qualitative specifics of immigrant children’s ability to adjust to socio-political realities of a newly acquired homeland, is their parents’ social status. As practice shows, after having immigrated to a particular Western country, these people often realize themselves being unable to find adequately paid jobs.
And, as it was pointed out by Hernadez in the book from which we have already quoted: “Because paid work by parents is the primary source of family income for most children, the number of parents who work for pay and whether they work part time or full time are key determinants of whether children live in poverty, in middle-class comfort, or in luxury” (24).
In other words, what contributes rather significantly to the fact that, comparing to their peers, immigrant children often find themselves in disadvantaged position, is their parents’ continuous struggle, aimed at attainment of social prominence.
And, it is important to understand that, despite what it is being commonly assumed, immigrant parents’ lack of education or their lessened ability to socialize with native-born citizens, does not necessarily explain hardships that they face, while looking for good jobs.
For example, it became a well-established practice in such countries as U.S. and Canada, for newly arrived immigrants from countries of former Soviet Union, who used to be top-surgeons, to be offered employment as nurses, at best.
The fact that these people possess an extensive experience in performing complex surgeries, is not being taken into consideration, which is why, upon having arrived to U.S. or Canada, health care professionals from former Soviet Union often come to realize that their university diplomas are being essentially useless.
It is needless to mention, of course, that such situation results in the children of these immigrants being deprived of a number of educational and consequently educational opportunities.
Nevertheless, it is namely in immigrant families from Third World countries, where children appear being especially disadvantaged, in social context of this word. The reason for this is quite apparent – given the fact that in these families, the average number of children often goes to as high as 5-10; it represents an acute challenge for the parents to be able to take care of their children’s even basic needs.
The statistical data, regarding the discussed subject matter, contained in Hernandez’s book, is being perfectly illustrative, in this respect: “Overall, the relative poverty rate for children in immigrant families [in U.S.] was 33 percent, compared to 24 percent for children in native-born families in the 1990 census… Poverty rates for children in immigrant families exceeded those for children in native-born families by 5 and 9 percentage points” (32).
What worsens the situation even further is that, as time goes on, the percentage of immigrant children who are being denied eligibility for just about any form of social assistance, due to the illegal status of their parents, increases rather exponentially.
The validity of this suggestion appears especially self-evident in regards to continuously increasing rate of illegal immigrants within the overall population of Hispanics in America.
According to Hanson (2006): “The distinguishing feature of Mexican immigration is that most new arrivals enter the United States illegally. In 2004, there were an estimated 5.9 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants in U.S… Thus, 56 percent of Mexican immigrants appear to lack permission to be in the country” (870).
And, as it was pointed out by Hernandez: “Children who are illegal immigrants are ineligible for most public benefits and services and, under welfare reform, those who are legal immigrants but not citizens may also be ineligible for important medical and social services” (56).
It goes without saying that, apart from having been spared of a number of social and educational opportunities, which native-born adolescents take for granted, children from families of illegal immigrants are being subjected to a continuous stress, originating in their fear of being deported.
And, as practice shows, the severity of these children’s psychological stress even doubles, as the consequence of their continuous exposal to emanations of subtle racism, even if such racism assumes legally legitimate forms.
As was noted by De Genova (2006): “The elusiveness of immigration law, and its relative invisibility in producing ‘illegality,’ requires the spectacle of ‘enforcement’, which renders a racialized migrant’s ‘illegality’ visible” (436). While being aware of their actual ‘otherness’, immigrant children have a particularly hard time trying to be comfortable with the fact that at schools, they get to be taught of their ‘sameness’.
Given the fact that the native language of most immigrant children is being different from the official language of a country where they came to live with their parents, it comes as not a particular surprise that, while striving to integrate into a new environment, they often face the issue of linguistic adaptation.
In its turn, this often causes them to experience what Igoa (1995) refers to as the sensation of ‘uprooting’: “If there is one characteristic of the uprooting experience that appears to be shared by all immigrant children irrespective of nationality, economic status, family stability, or any other factor, it is the silent stage when the children experience the school culture as different from their own and when their inability to communicate with peers is caused by a language or cultural difference” (38).
The problems with communication are more likely to be experienced by children, whose native language is being sintaxically different from any of Indo-European languages.
In its turn, this partially explains why in English speaking countries, the representatives of second and even third generation of Chinese immigrants, speak with a noticeable accent. According to Sung (1985): “The language barrier was the problem most commonly mentioned by the immigrant children of Chinese origin. Frequently, language looms largest because it is the conduit through which we interact with other people” (256).
Nevertheless, even though immigrant children of Asian (specifically Chinese) background do initially experience many problems, related to the process of their linguistic adjustment, they usually prove themselves quite capable of overcoming their ‘linguistic shyness’ with ease. Their possession of a high IQ helps them rather drastically, in this respect.
As Booth (1997) had put it: “These immigrants (from India, Taiwan, Iran, Japan, Korea, and China), are perhaps the most skilled ever to come to the United States. Their class origins help explain the popularization of Asians as a ‘model minority’” (23). This explains earlier mentioned phenomenon that, as of today, students of Asian origin are being overrepresented in Western universities’ technical departments, which subjects them to subtle forms of discrimination.
For example, regarding the adolescents from Chinese immigrant families who want to study in universities, there are much stricter entrance requirements. The official explanation for this is that these youngsters often lack linguistic skills, to be admitted to the places of higher learning.
However, the real reason for this is much simpler – in American universities, there is almost a complete absence of native-born Blacks and Hispanics, majoring in highly technical disciplines, such as chemistry, architecture, physics, math, engineering and software designing.
In its turn, this undermines the fundamental premise of multiculturalism, based upon the assumption that all people are equal, regardless of their ethnic background. This is exactly the reason why Asian immigrant youth is now facing poorly masked racism in a number of Western countries that take pride in the strength of their adherence to the ideals of multicultural living – whatever the ironic it might sound.
From what has been said earlier, it appears that, even though that the problem of immigrant children and adolescents’ linguistic acclimatization can indeed be defined as rather pressing, it should not be thought of as ‘thing in itself’.
After all, comparing to what it is usually the case with adult immigrants, children are being much more capable of picking up foreign language, especially when forced to practice this language in their everyday lives. Therefore, it is namely immigrant parents’ insistence in endowing their young ones with respect towards ‘traditional values’, which slows down the process of children’s linguistic adjustment.
Moreover, it also contributes to the rise of domestic tensions between parents and children in immigrant families. In their article, Tseng and Fuligni (2000) came up with perfectly legitimate suggestion that immigrant children’s often strongly defined linguistic uncomfortableness derives out of their parents’ lack of intellectual flexibility: “Because English lacks honorifics or terms of respect present in some languages, adolescents’ use of the English language with native-speaking parents may be associated with distancing between them” (467).
In other words, even though that many immigrant children do not think of speaking a foreign language as particularly challenging, they nevertheless try not to over abuse their newly acquired linguistic skills, especially in the presence of their traditionally minded parents. As a result, their linguistic proficiency suffers a great deal of damage.
What also represents a major obstacle, on the way of immigrant children attaining finesse in the language of a host country, is the fact that, upon having immigrated to Western countries, immigrants from Third World tend to choose in favor of a ‘communal living’ – that is, they settle in the areas known for the abundance of their previously arrived compatriots. In his article, Zubrinsky (2003) states:
“Chain migration patterns common among both Hispanic and Asian immigrants concentrate rapidly growing groups in a small number of metropolitan areas – and within a small number of neighborhoods within an area – increasing their isolation and decreasing exposure to out-groups” (172).
Therefore, the factor of immigrant children’s linguistic adaptability should be discussed within the context of objectively existing socio-political preconditions, which affect the extent of these children’s ability to adjust to a new language and to the set of socio-cultural values, associated with it.
Nowadays, many anthropologists and political scientists discuss the issue of what defines immigrant children’s psychological well-being, in regards to their varying ability to adopt a so-called ‘hybrid identity’. Given the fact that, ever since 20th century’s sixties, world’s immigration flows had adopted an undeniable West-bounded direction, it comes as not a surprise that the bulk of today’s immigrants come from countries that used to be subjected to Europe’s colonial domination.
What it means is that, after having lived in Western society for a while, their inborn identity of former colonial subjects comes into conflict with their newly adopted identity of Westerners, at least in formal sense of this word. In its turn, this causes the workings of immigrant children’s psyche to construct an entirely new ‘ambivalent’ identity, the specifics of which are being emphasized by the extent of these children’s ‘visible ethnicity’.
One of the most prominent theoreticians of ‘hybrid identity’, Homi Bhabha (1985) defines the essence of such an identity in the following manner: “Hybridity is not a problem of genealogy or identity between two different cultures which can then be resolved as an issue of cultural relativism.
Hybridity is a problematic of colonial representation and individuation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other ‘denied’ knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority – its rules of recognition” (156).
According to the author, ‘hybrid identity’, which he believes immigrant children and adolescents to be endowed with, often extrapolates itself in these youngsters’ tendency to choose in favor of socially inappropriate behavior.
As of today, there are a number of illustrative examples, which confirm the validity of Bhabha’s suggestion. The most recent one is the forced deportation of 500 Chechen refugees from Norway that had taken place in February of 2011. Even though that many of these people have lived in Norway for as long seven years, Norwegian authorities simply declared that Chechens are not being welcomed in Norway any longer.
One of the factors that contributed to Norwegian authorities’ decision to deport all Chechens back to Russia was the manner in which Chechen children and adolescents behaved themselves socially, while going as far as committing the acts of gang-rape, looting stores and beating native-born Norwegians to death.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to think of this as the confirmation of young Chechens’ inborn ‘viciousness’ but rather as yet additional proof to the fact that these youngsters indeed posses of a post-colonial ‘ambivalent identity’, which they happened to explore with little too much enthusiasm.
After all, in Britain, immigrant children and adolescents of Jamaican and Trinidadian ethnic backgrounds are also being known for their rather violent attitudes. Yet, nobody would dare to suggest that they would have to be deported, as they happened to hold British passports.
Therefore, it is important to understand that, the seeming inconsistency in how immigrant children are expected to behave and how they behave in reality, derives out of the very process of these individuals’ continuous integration into a host society, which in its turn, causes immigrant children to profess the values of a ‘hybrid identity’.
As Dummett (2001) had suggested: “The children of immigrants — given an acceptance of them by the surrounding society… will retain some of the customs of their parents, but will regard themselves as full members of the national community into which they were brought: in their eyes, that national community now embraces their customs and their culture as well as those traditional to that country” (18).
Thus, the fact that, after having moved to Western countries, immigrant children and adolescents do often experience an identity crisis, sublimated in their tendency to violently oppose these countries’ customs, represents another important challenge on the way of their assimilation.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons to think that, as time goes on, this challenge will be losing its present acuteness, simply because Western societies continue to grow increasingly multicultural.
In the previous part of this paper, we have elaborated on factors that are assumed counter-productive, within the context of immigrant children trying to adjust to the new environment. Nevertheless, there are also certain psychological traits, the endowment with which, seem to provide immigrant children with a certain advantage, while proceeding with studies and while making the best of their lives in a new country. These traits can be generally outlined as follows:
Given the fact that, prior to immigrating to a new country with their parents, children and adolescents have experienced the realities of their actual homeland, it makes them naturally predisposed towards adopting an analytical stance, when it comes to assessing socio-political realities of a country where they came to live. And, one’s ability to adopt such a stance early in life is the key to his or her educational and consequently professional successfulness.
The reason for this is simple – due to the qualitative essence of their former life’s experiences, immigrant children’s ability to compare and contrast appears undeniably higher, when evaluated against that of their native-born peers, which in its turn, creates objective preconditions for these children to be endowed with rationalistic mindset, by the time they grow up.
Such our suggestion fully correlates with the results of Levels, Dronkers and Kraaykamp’s (2008) study: “We found that, ceteris paribus, immigrant children and the children of immigrants from countries with a lower level of economic development perform particularly well in school” (848). Apparently, unlike what it is being usually the case with their native-born peers, most immigrant children know perfectly well how to make a distinction between relevant and irrelevant types of knowledge.
For example, children that came from war-torn countries, will never believe in the objectiveness of a variety of moralistically sounding but essentially meaningless notions, such as ‘sanctity of life’, which native-born Westerners naively consider to represent an undeniable truth-value.
And, given the fact that the empirical sciences have nothing to do with people’s wishful thinking but solely with scientifically proven facts, it does not come as a big surprise that the percentage of former ‘immigrant children’, among today’s Western scientists, increases rather dramatically.
For example, it has been estimated that, as of 2008, 60% of Microsoft’s most prominent software engineers consisted of naturalized citizens from Russia, China and India, many of which came to U.S. as children, without knowing even few words in English.
As practice shows, comparing to their peers, immigrant children appear much more goal-oriented and cynical. They are fully aware that in this life, nothing is ‘given’ but rather ‘taken’. And, unlike many of their native-born counterparts, they are more capable of addressing life’s challenges as stoics, as opposed to be preoccupied with whining about ‘world’s injustices’.
It is often being the case that, after having arrived to a new country, the parents of immigrant children realize that they would have to indulge in heavy physical labor, in order to be able to meet ends. This naturally exposes their children to the prospect of not only having to rely upon themselves, while striving to attain social prominence, but also to the prospect of being required to assist parents in their daily routine.
The manner, in which many families of Chinese immigrants to America go about ensuring their well-being, is being particularly illustrative, in this respect.
In her article, Gorman (1998) provides us with the clue as to what accounts for the specifics of parenting in the families of Chinese immigrants to America: “Chinese mothers emphasize their children’s relationships with others rather than their children’s psychological attributes… Authoritarian parenting has not been found to be associated with poor academic achievement among Chinese families” (73).
Even today, it is not an utterly uncommon sight to see Chinese youth working at the restaurant by night and studying at university by day. And, we do not only refer to what it is being the case in U.S., but also to what it is being the case in other Western countries.
As we had mentioned earlier, immigrant children’s possession of a ‘hybrid mentality’, often causes them to think of utilization of violence as the ultimate tool for solving conflicts with their peers and with adults, who in their view, represent an ‘oppressive authority’.
This, however, should not be thought of as necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary – it is namely those who, during the early stages of their lives, have learned how to stand their ground that will have a better chance of growing up into productive and responsible citizens.
Nowadays, even a brief glance at bullying-related statistical data, reveals an undeniable fact that in Western countries, 90% of those who have been victimized by bullies are native-born Whites.
According to Sugden (2008): “White children are much more likely to be bullied than any other ethnic group – reversing racial stereotypes surrounding playground abuse, Government research indicates. Two thirds of children from white families say they had been bullied in the last three years but less than half of children of Indian origin make the same assertion” (Times Online).
As time goes by, more and more White children and adolescents in Western countries choose in favor of social absenteeism, as the form of their existential mode. They lock themselves up in their rooms and play computer games all day long, while being utterly terrified of a prospect of venturing out on the street – hence, deserving to referred to as ‘nerds’ to the full extent of this word.
The children of newly arrived ethnic immigrants, on the other hand, do not seem to have any psychological anxieties, on the account of their ‘smartness’, simply because unlike what it is the case with many of their native-born White counterparts, while in the ‘old country’, they had never been subjected to any form of ideological brainwashing.
Therefore, we would like to reinstate once again that the possession of a fighting spirit, is immigrant children’s another psychological trait, which makes them more than capable to adjust to the social and cultural realities of just about any Western country.
The following are the interviews, conducted with two representatives of Armenian Diaspora in Ukraine and also with two other individuals that fall into the category of ‘immigrant children’, who since their arrival to this country, had found themselves being surrounded by an unfamiliar cultural and linguistic environment, and who had undergone the process of culturally linguistic adjustment.
Emma Petrosyan (17 years old). Student at British International School in Kiev.
Emma, as far as I understand, you have not been born in Ukraine. Would you be please so kind to tell me how did you end up living in Ukraine?
I came to Ukraine four years ago with my father and mother. Around that time, my dad set up a construction company in Kiev and offered me to relocate to this city, as well.
In other words, before coming here, you did not know much about Ukraine, its language and its customs?
Oh no. Even before I have relocated here for good, I had a very good idea as to what Ukraine is all about. You see, our family have many relatives in Ukraine, who have resided here for a long time. For example, my father’s aunty has been living in Dnepropetrovsk since 1979.
You speak English very well, indeed. Is it solely the consequence of you attending British International School or maybe there is more to it?
I would have to say that, without having attended this school, I would not be able to learn much English at all. In Ukrainian regular schools, students are not being given a good opportunity to study English. One of my friends, who studies in one of such schools, has been telling me that they only have two English classes per week, during the course of which they get to learn grammar mostly, without being given much of a chance to practice their skills in that language.
While at the school, are you being required to speak English all the time?
Yes. All of the subjects in our school are being taught exclusively in English. Most school’s the teachers are actually British citizens and they do not tolerate students conversing to each other in any other language but English, even during the breaks.
But, don’t you think that, while being required to speak English all the time, when at school, you might lose a grip of your native language and also of Ukrainian language, in which I assume you are being proficient?
Actually, ever since my early years in Armenia, I have learned Russian to the extent that I consider it being nothing short of my native language. In Kiev, everybody speak Russian, which is why I never needed to learn much of Ukrainian – only uneducated peasants from country’s Western parts, who come to Kiev looking for low paid jobs, speak that kind of a language.
But, isn’t Ukrainian the only country’s official language?
Officially, it is. But in reality, most of well educated people in this country do not even consider it language per se – it is more of a peasant dialect, which is why it lacks words of technological significance. For example, the term ‘wheel bearing’ can be translated to Russian as ‘podshypnik’, whereas there is simply no equivalent to this word in Ukrainian.
While Yuschenko (former Ukrainian President) was in the office, he hired a bunch of ‘language experts’ from Galicia, so that they would simply invent Ukrainian words, which never existed in reality.
I’ve heard from a friend of mine, who studies in one of Kiev’s Ukrainian schools, that once she had gotten a bad grade, simply because she referred to a car as ‘avtomobil’, instead of referring to it as ‘avtivka’ – as Yushenko’s ‘experts’ used to be insisting.
One time, I was invited to take part in filming of a local TV show – people who were talking on camera, tried to speak Ukrainian, but as soon as cameras were turned off, all of them would switch back to speaking Russian (laughs).
So, in other words, you did not experience much of a problem, while adjusting to Ukraine’s linguistic environment?
I guess you could say so. I speak English and Russian fluently – all that it is being required from just about anybody, in order to feel comfortable in this country, unless you want to have a career in taking care of livestock in some of Ukraine’s remote villages. Then, you would have to learn Ukrainian.
Apart from having to undergo a linguistic adjustment, did you experience any other assimilation-related challenges?
Well… every once in a while, I get to encounter racists. Most of them utterly unintelligent people from country’s Western regions, who for some strange reason believe that Ukraine belongs solely to them. Good thing most of these individuals are really not in position to impose their racist views upon others. Still, my dad has to periodically deal with this type of people, while conducting his business. It does not bother him much though – one cannot be getting offended at those who were born genetically and intellectually deficient.
Thank you very much Emma. Your replies to my questions were indeed rather enlightening.
Armen Hachaturyan (17 years old). Student at Meridian International School in Kiev.
Armen, could you please me a little about yourself?
I was born in Armenia and I lived most of my life there. My family immigrated to Ukraine two years ago, so I live here now.
I am interested to hear whether you consider yourself being fully comfortable living in this country. And, if so, how did you manage to get adjusted to the local realities?
Actually, I like living here very much. Of course, you cannot refer to Ukraine as a Western country, in full sense of this word, but I still like it better then Armenia – comparing to what it used to be the case in Erevan (Armenian capital), there is a multitude of culturally and ethnically different people in Kiev, which is why I find residing in this city intellectually stimulating. In fact, I consider myself having similar mentality with Ukrainians – after all, just as it is being the case with Ukraine, Armenia used to be the part of Soviet Union. So, my naturalization occurred very much on its own.
Did you find it any hard adjusting to the new linguistic environment, while here?
I do not think it was particularly hard for me to get adjusted. I studied Russian language since I went to elementary school in Erevan, so I consider this language being almost as native as Armenian. And, in Kiev, most people speak Russian. Yet, my parents insisted that I attend English-speaking school, so that I would have a better career prospects.
Are you being required to speak English all the time, while at school?
Most of the subjects are being taught to us in English, but we do have Russian and Ukrainian classes. To be honest, I cannot say that I’ve been excelling in Ukrainian a whole lot, which kind of troubles me, as I am planning to enter Shevchenko’s University, I after I graduate from school. You see, in that university, all of the entrance examinations are exclusively in Ukrainian.
Why wouldn’t you apply an extra effort, while gaining proficiency in that language?
I would not mind doing it, but I find it little hard. In order for just about anyone to get a good grip of a particular language, he or she would have to be provided with an opportunity to practice it. But, who am I going to practice it with, apart from practicing it with the teacher, during Ukrainian classes? All the people that I know here speak Russian. I mean, I do speak Ukrainian, but not to the extent of being able to pass exams in it. To make things worse, our teacher of Ukrainian language always talk to me in a way as if she never ceases to be angry with my mere presence in this country. I think she hates me, simply because I happened to have a darker skin.
Is it really so? What are her attitudes towards other school’s students?
She definitely treats Ukrainian students better. I guess she belongs to this Ukrainian nationalist party ‘Svoboda’, which is why, while talking to me, she always stresses out that I am being nothing but a guest. But, in Kiev, she is being just as much of a guest as me – people always spoke Russian here, and it is only after Stalin occupied Eastern part of Poland in 1939, that Ukrainian nationalists started to move to Kiev by trainloads. If she continues giving me troubles, I will file a complaint against her. My parents pay good money so that I would be able to get a good education. And, I don’t think that hearing about how great were Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, during the course of WW2, should be the part of getting such an education.
It is quite strange to hear this from you. I thought teachers’ task has always been helping students to attain self-confidence, especially when foreign-born students that study in international schools are being concerned.
That is what I thought too. Unfortunately, there are still many nationalistically minded educators in this country, who seem to derive a sick pleasure out of degrading immigrant youth. Still, I think that the things will get better – Ukrainian new President Yanukovich appears being open-minded individual, which is why he recalled former President’s decree that proclaimed Ukrainian main Nazi collaborator Bandera a ‘hero’.
What do you think of your experiences in socializing with ordinary Ukrainians? Do you find them open-minded as well?
Most of them are absolutely normal people, who are being simply concerned with trying to make living. And, once people start enjoying better standards of living, due to their hard work, they effectively cease regarding nationalistic nonsense seriously. I believe that citizens’ value should be assessed in regards to their ability to function as productive members of society, and not in regards to whether they can be defined as representatives of a ‘native folk’ or not.
Do you think that your Ukrainian classmates are sharing such your opinion?
Yes I do. Most of them come from well-off families, which mean they had a chance to travel the world. And, those who had visited foreign countries, are being naturally predisposed towards becoming tolerant individuals. Nevertheless, there are still a few students, who while being perfectly aware of the fact that I do not speak Ukrainian very well, would never cease referring to me in this language, even though they could have done it in Russian with ease. I think, it makes them feel special.
Armen, do you and your parents spend much time socializing with other Armenians in Kiev?
In fact, we do. My father owes Armenian restaurant in Kiev, so we always get too meet compatriots. Most of these people have managed to become well-established citizens in Ukraine. And, I guess what had helped them in this respect, is the fact that the members of Armenian Diaspora in Ukraine always try to help each other in time of need.
Thank you for your willingness to talk to me Armen. I make sure I will be checking your dad’s restaurant as soon as possible.
You are very welcome.
Alisha Evert (16 years old). Student at Kiev International School.
Alisha, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you please introduce yourself, before we proceed?
I’m the daughter of a diplomat from South Africa. I have been living in Ukraine for one year now. My father is going to be promoted at the embassy, so I guess I’ll be living here for at least another few years.
I understand you study in an English speaking school. Does it leave you with much of a chance to learn about local language, culture and customs?
To be honest, I am not a very fast learner of foreign cultures. But, the more I stay in Ukraine, the more I grow comfortable with the way of life here. It’s just I can help missing South African food.
I don’t know if you have heard, but many people in Ukraine like eating ‘salo’ (raw pork back), would you ever consider trying that?
My dad told me about this. I actually still find it hard to believe that he was not joking. I mean, how can you eat that?
Well, that is something many Ukrainians are being proud of. By the way, have you made any friends with local children yet?
I have, there are many Ukrainian students in the school where I study, but they don’t act like most of ordinary Ukrainian children do.
Why is that?
This is because they consider themselves being so much better than the rest. It costs their parents about $2000 per month to have them studying here; whereas, I heard that many ordinary Ukrainians make as little as $300 per month.
Are they being any racist towards you?
Some of them. But most of them are Ok.
I’ve heard there are classes in Ukrainian and Russian at your school, are you being required to attend them.
Not really but I still do. I’d like to learn Russian language. There is that girl Natasha, with whom I’ve made really good friends. She helps me with learning Russian. I now can understand a lot of what is being said on TV.
I’m sure you have met many Ukrainian people. In which way, do you think they are being different from South Africans?
Well, they like to drink a lot. They don’t like to say hello to each other. There is much anger in the air. However, this is not because these people are bad, but because most of them are poor by even African standards.
What do you like about Kiev?
I like the fact that this is a very safe city. Even though many Ukrainians are rather angry, they are not violent. In Johannesburg, where I grew up, there are whole areas, where normal people try not to go to, because they can be easily killed or raped right out on the street. In Kiev, you can go just about anywhere and you’ll still be Ok.
Do you think you might ever consider settling in Ukraine for good?
If local winters weren’t quite as cold, I would.
Thank you Alisha.
Nguen Lmao (16 years old). An illegal immigrant from Vietnam. [The original interview was conducted in Russian].
Nguen, please tell me about yourself and about what had prompted you to come to Ukraine.
I grew up in Vietnam in a very poor family of ten, where I was the youngest kid. About three years ago, two of my older brothers decided to try to come to France and they offered me to join them. Of course, we could not immigrate to this country legally, so we decided to make our way there onboard of a commercial ship.
So, I guess Ukraine is not the final point of your destination?
Originally, it wasn’t and it still isn’t. We’ve managed to come to Odessa, while hiding in one of those containers onboard of a sea-freighter. Then, we tried crossing Ukrainian border with Poland, but we failed and my two brothers ended up being caught by Ukrainian border patrol. As far as I’m being aware of, they have been deported back to Vietnam, but I’ve never heard from them since. I was more lucky, because I managed to escape from Ukrainian authorities. Now, I live in Kiev.
What do you do for living?
There is a large Vietnamese community in Kiev. These people provided me with the place to stay and also gave the gob of a salesperson at one of city’s open markets.
You speak Russian very well. How long did it take you to learn this language?
Maybe like two of three months. I had no option but to learn Russian quickly, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get a job. This is like when they throw you into the river so that you learn how to swim – it’s whether you start swimming or die.
Do you find living as an illegal immigrant pleasurable?
Well, I don’t starve here at least; whereas, back in Vietnam, I used to starve constantly. I don’t really care for the fact that I don’t have a passport. Every time police comes to the market with an inspection, I simply bribe them with a few cartons of cigarettes and they leave me alone.
So, I guess you’ve proven yourself more than capable adjusting to the realities of living in Ukraine.
Yes, in fact, while selling stuff at the market, I make more money than many native-born Ukrainians do, especially those who work for the state, such as teachers, for example. I owe this country nothing, just as it owes me nothing. All I want is to be left in peace.
What are your plans for the future? Are you going to stay in Ukraine forever?
Do I look like a crazy person? Of course, I’m not going to stay here forever. Right now, I’m just trying to save enough money, so that I’d be able to afford a trip to France.
We talk of an illegal trip here, right?
Please, spare me of your moralistic overtones. Is it illegal to be trying to get a better life? I have a dream – I want to live in France, and I’m willing to do just about all that it takes for my dream to come true. We only live once, you know.
Do you think you’ll be able to adjust to living in France, if you manage to get there?
Well, I’ve managed to adjust to living in Ukraine, and this is not the best country in the world, believe me. I guess you’re forgetting that Vietnam used to be French colony – my grandfather taught me French language. All I need is to get there.
Do you think maybe, at some point in your life, you would have to look into getting an education?
Yes, eventually I will look into that. In fact, I’ve always dreamt of becoming a doctor. But, as of today, I’m simply in no position to be giving it much of a thought.
Have you ever indulged in violent behavior, while in Ukraine?
Forgive me, but I don’t have all day long to talk to you. I have some business to take care of.
Thank you anyways.
We believe that the data, related to immigrant children’s varying ability to adjust to the socio-cultural environment of a new country, which we had obtained while conducting earlier provided interviews, largely supports paper’s initial suggestions. For example, all four interviewees pointed out to the fact that learning new language did not represent much of a challenge to them.
Partially, this can be explained by the fact that, as it appears from interviews’ contexts, Emma, Armen, Alisha and Nguen, are not being particularly preoccupied with celebrating their ‘ethnic uniqueness’.
In its turn, this correlates with paper’s earlier expressed suggestion that children’s ability to adjust to a new linguistic environment corresponds to the extent of their keenness to spent time with parents in counter-geometrical progression. In other words – the more time immigrant children spend socializing with their peers, the quicker they master new country’s language.
Nevertheless, these interviews brought to light something that has not been theorized upon in paper’s earlier parts – namely the fact that, in Ukraine, immigrant children’s chances to get a grip of the language that serves as universally recognized communicational medium (Russian), are being undermined by the governmental authorities’ insistence that, along with Russian, they must also learn Ukrainian.
And yet, neither of interviewees indicated that they really did need to learn this language, in order for them to be able to feel socially and culturally comfortable in Ukraine. Apparently, Ukrainian language had long ago ceased serving as communicational medium of any practical value, due to its lack of semiotic adequateness, and instead, became nothing less of a cultural fetish.
In its turn, this allows us to draw certain parallels between linguistic challenges, faced by immigrant children in Ukraine and the challenges, faced by immigrant children in Ireland. After all, just as Ukrainian language being considered native to Ukraine, Gaelic language is being considered native to Ireland.
Moreover, just as most Ukrainians prefer to communicate in Russian, most Irish prefer to communicate in English. As it was rightly pointed out by Suarez (2005): “The value of Gaelic is low. Globally, it is a marginal language.
Although there is some economic value for those who speak it, the economic costs of not speaking English are much higher than the costs of not speaking Gaelic” (464). Nevertheless, unlike what it is the case in Ukraine, newly arrived immigrants to Ireland are not being forced to learn essentially ‘dead’ language, simply because governmental bureaucrats want them to.
Therefore, whatever the paradoxically it might sound; it is namely Nguen’s illegal status, which had caused the process of his linguistic acclimatization to proceed in particularly smooth manner.
The reason for this is simple – unlike what it is being the case with the rest of interviewees, Nguen never aimed at establishing himself socially in Ukraine, which is why he only needed to learn Russian, as the language of trade (and also the language of science and high culture, we might add).
The earlier conducted analytical review of literature, interviews with Ukraine’s four foreign-born residents, and the concluding discussion, allows us to come up with the set of recommendations as to what researchers, who explore subjects similar to that of this paper, should consider focusing their attention upon in the future:
Studying the qualitative aspects of a correlation between immigrant children’s progress in adjusting to socio-political, cultural and linguistic environment of a new country and the particulars of their ethnic affiliation.
Exploring what accounts for artificially created obstacles on the way of immigrant children’s linguistic integration into a host society, on the part of governmental authorities.
Assessing how the specifics of children’s immigration status reflect on their ability to assimilate.
Defining societal subtleties of how immigrant children go about constructing their self-identity and how they expect others to perceive such their newly acquired identity.
Investigating the effects of immigrant children’s behavioral attitudes on their assimilation-related capacities.
Aronowitz, Michael “The Social and Emotional Adjustment of Immigrant Children: A Review of the Literature.” International Migration Review 18.2 (1984): 237-257.
Artico, Ceres. Latino Families Broken by Immigration: The Adolescent’s Perceptions. New York: LFB Scholarly, 2003.
Beissinger, Mark “Identity in Formation: The Russian?Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad Source.” The American Journal of Sociology 105.1 (1999): 294-296.
Bhabha, Homi “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817.” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 150-165.
Booth, Alan., Crouter, Ann & Landale, Nancy. Immigration and the Family: Research and Policy on U.S. Immigrants. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.
Brandon, Peter “The Living Arrangements of Children in Immigrant Families in the United States.” International Migration Review 36.2 (2002): 416-436.
De Genova, Nicholas “Migrant ‘Illegality’ and Deportability in Everyday Life.”
Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 419-447.
Dummett, Michael. On Immigration and Refugees. London: Routledge, 2001.
Educational Achievement in Western Countries: Origin, Destination, and Community Effects on Mathematical Performance.” American Sociological Review 73.5 (2008): 835-853.
Gorman, Jean “Parenting Attitudes and Practices of Immigrant Chinese Mothers of Adolescents.” Family Relations 47.1 (1998): 73-80.
Hanson, Gordon “Illegal Migration from Mexico to the United States.” Journal of Economic Literature 44.4 (2006): 869-924.
Hernandez, Donald. Children of Immigrants: Health, Adjustment, and Public Assistance. Washington: National Academy Press, 1999.
Igoa, Cristina. The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995
Katz, Ruth & Lowenstein, Ariela “Adjustment of Older Soviet Immigrant Parents and Their Adult Children Residing in Shared Households: An Intergenerational Comparison.” Family Relations 48.1 (1999): 43-50.
Levels, Mark., Dronkers, Jaap & Kraaykamp, Gerbert “Immigrant Children’s Educational Achievement in Western Countries: Origin, Destination, and Community Effects on Mathematical Performance.” American Sociological Review 73.5 (2008): 835-853.
“Norway: Police Brutally Beat and Forcibly Deport Chechens to Russia” (2011). KavkazCenter.Com. 31 Mar. 2011.
Neumayer, Eric “Asylum Recognition Rates in Western Europe: Their Determinants, Variation, and Lack of Convergence.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 49.1 (2005): 43-66.
Skop, Emily & Li, Wei “Asians in America’s Suburbs: Patterns and Consequences of Settlement.” Geographical Review 95.2 (2005): 167-188.
Suarez, Sandra “Does English Rule? Language Instruction and Economic Strategies in Singapore, Ireland, and Puerto Rico.” Comparative Politics 37.4 (2005): 459-478.
Sung B. L. “Bicultural conflicts in Chinese Immigrant Children.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 26 (1985): 255-269.
Tseng, Vivian & Fuligni, Andrew “Parent-Adolescent Language use and Relationships among Immigrant Families with East Asian, Filipino, and Latin American Backgrounds.” Journal of Marriage and Family 62.2 (2000): 465-476.
Urciuoli, Bonnie “Skills and Selves in the New Workplace.” American Ethnologist 35.2 (2008): 211-228.
Wakil, Parvez & Wakil, Siddique “Between Two Cultures: A Study in Socialization of Children of Immigrants.” Journal of Marriage and Family 43.4 (1981): 929-940.
Zhou, Min “Growing Up American: The Challenge Confronting Immigrant Children and Children of Immigrants.” Annual Review of Sociology 23 (1997): 63-95.
Zubrinsky, Charles “The Dynamics of Racial Residential Segregation.” Annual
Review of Sociology 29 (2003): 167-207.
Skop Emily & Wei Li “Asians in America’s Suburbs: Patterns and Consequences of Settlement.” Geographical Review 95.2 (2005), 170.
Mark Beissinger “Identity in Formation: The Russian?Speaking Populations in the near abroad,” The American Journal of Sociology, 105.1 (1999), 295.
“Norway: Police Brutally Beat and Forcibly Deport Chechens to Russia” (2011). KavkazCenter.Com. 31 Mar. 2011. http://kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2011/02/28/13695.shtml
Bonnie Urciuoli “Skills and Selves in the New Workplace.” American Ethnologist 35.2 (2008), 215.