Study examines issues faced by teen-agers who move to the U.S.

May 31, 2002

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Unlike their American peers who sometimes wish their parents would suddenly become invisible, many teen-agers who emigrate from Poland to the United States actually complain that they don't get to see Mom or Dad enough.

That's just one of the findings Monika Stodolska reports in "Establishment Problems and Leisure Behavior of Adolescent Immigrants from Korea, Mexico and Poland," a paper she presented at the 10th Canadian Congress on Leisure Research in Edmonton, Canada, May 22-25. The paper is based on a qualitative study conducted by Stodolska, a professor of leisure studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and graduate student Jouyeon Yi.

Stodolska and Yi conducted in-depth interviews with 39 first-generation immigrants from Korea, Mexico and Poland. Stodolska's recent presentation focused on a subset of 16 immigrants between the ages of 14 and 22 who emigrated to the United States as children or teen-agers. The study represents the first phase of a larger project that will include survey responses from 1,500 immigrants of all ages.

While the volume of research on leisure of racial and ethnic minorities - including immigrant populations - has been growing in recent years, the Illinois professor said only a handful of these studies have isolated problems faced by adolescent immigrants. And, she said, those have targeted specific populations and "have been thematically isolated and largely descriptive in nature."

"We believe that there is a need to move beyond this phase by attempting to discover patterns that can be generalized to all immigrant groups while at the same time isolating unique characteristics of certain minorities." So far, patterns have definitely emerged in the Illinois study. Among them:

  • While Polish children complained that they didn't spend enough time with their parents, Mexicans and Koreans said family interactions were more frequent following immigration. Koreans attributed it to the new work environment, in which fathers spent less time socializing outside of work with colleagues; Mexican teen-agers felt more alienated by the outside world, which drew them closer to their families.

  • All three groups reported being teased or harassed by American peers, yet all reported gaining acceptance through participation in sports. "Sports promotes assimilation," said Stodolska, who teaches a course on international sports and leisure, and added that the assignment of a high value on athletic prowess is "a uniquely American thing."

  • All interviewees said they wanted to work in order to have money for leisure-related commodities, such as cars, clothing and entertainment. The desire "to go to the mall, and to buy, buy, buy" was more pronounced among Mexicans and Poles, who more closely associated the acquisition of material goods with "fitting in," Stodolska said. That desire wasn't as strong among the Koreans, whose economic standards of living in the United States and Korea were comparable.

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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