“Protective Factors and Resilience in Muslim Refugees: A Case Study”
As part of my independent senior thesis in the Boston College Psychology Department, I am supplementing a literature review of refugee youth resilience with case studies of resilience in current Muslim refugee communities. Prior to receiving the Omar A. Aggad Fellowship, I spent this summer living in Barcelona to conduct interviews as part of the Advanced Study Grant for Thesis Research. My travels to Palestine over winter break on the Aggad Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to gather additional data on services provided to refugee populations that are in line with research on fostering resilience and increasing protective factors for psychopathology following displacement.
During this 2016-17 academic year, I have been conducting an extensive review of existing literature to recognize components of successful adaptation processes for refugee youth. Research indicates that cultivating a strong sense of identity, providing social support within community programs and schools, and integrating heritage culture and religion into adaptation processes are methods to improve psychological wellbeing in refugee youth populations. To supplement this scientific literature review, I am providing two case studies in my thesis in which I interview different community stakeholders, such as housing shelters, health clinics, and religious institutions, on services provided to refugee youth. I received IRB approval for an original interview questionnaire created to understand social support networks for refugees. One set of interviews was completed this summer, where I interviewed various institutions working with Muslim refugee youth in Barcelona. I was able to use my Urdu and Arabic language skills to conduct their interviews and speak with various members of the institutions.
The next set was completed during winter break in Palestine through this scholarship. I visited the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, West Bank. Two-thirds of the camp’s population is under 18 years of age, and thus, many services are uniquely catered to this demographic. I had the opportunity to interview one of the employees at the organization who had been working at the organization for multiple years by this point. Our interview was a combination of Arabic and English. Additionally, I interviewed a psychologist that worked with internally displaced Palestinians still residing in the West Bank. These interviews have offered me insight on the emphasis that institutions are placing on cultivating creativity and innovative thought amongst the daily adversities that Palestinian children face. This is not a dimension I have yet included in my literature analysis, but seeing the significance it holds for refugee children in Palestine has shifted my focus for this case study.
I am in the process of analyzing the interviews from Barcelona and Palestine with NVivo qualitative analysis software. Once I am able to recognize trends and differences between the different locations, they will combine to create a separate chapter of my thesis on components for fostering resilience in Muslim refugee youth. The Omar A. Aggad Fellowship has allowed me to more robustly analyze how various social mechanisms can be employed to best support Muslim refugee populations, especially in light of today’s dire refugee crisis.
Isra Hussain '17 was recently awarded a Critical Language Scholarship for the summer of 2015 to study intermediate Urdu in India. The CLS Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. It is provided to American students so they can master critical foreign languages. This fully-funded, two month study abroad scholarship will allow Isra to study in Lucknow, India at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) with other students seeking to learn the Urdu language. Not only will she be mastering the language of her family, but Isra will have the chance to travel throughout Northern India. She has plans to study institutions that care for mental illness in India, which will be the beginning of an extended project on international mental healthcare disparities. Following this summer program, Isra plans to continue research in South Asia and begin research in the Middle East on how stigmatization of mental health may affect its treatment in these regions.
Isra is a sophomore in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program. She is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Arabic Studies. Coming to Boston College peaked her interest in the Arabic language because of the college's emphasis on spirituality and discussion. She realized the importance of Arabic to her Muslim identity through this formal theological education. Deciding to transition to Urdu language studies this upcoming summer was not a random decision. Rather, by learning Arabic, she realized the value of languages and has decided to learn the native tongue of her Pakistani family. She also has a love for travel, and over the past year has visited Italy, Nicaragua, and the United Arab Emirates. She's excited to further her education in India this upcoming summer.
Below is the full interview that Isra was kind enough to partake in with ICS.
Where are you from and what brought you to Boston College?
I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and my family is originally from Pakistan. My story for applying to BC is actually quite funny, but let's just say it happened by pure chance. After being admitted to the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program, however, I turned down all of my other school options. BC gave me an offer I couldn't refuse.
What is your major and minor?
I'm majoring in psychology and minoring in Arabic Studies. I'm generally very interested in Public Health/Global Health, and hope to pursue a career in this field in the future.
What is the CLS program? What are the benefits of the CLS program?
The CLS Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. It is provided to American students so they can master critical foreign languages. There are 13 languages available through the CLS, including Urdu, Arabic, and Russian. This fully-funded, two month study abroad scholarship begins with a week-long training session in Washington, DC where students meet other CLS recipients for the summer. The students then fly out to their host countries to attend language classes in universities and participate in cultural immersion events. Students live with host families where they will speak primarily in the language of study. Receiving a Critical Language Scholarship opens many doors for the future, and recipients have better chances of earning a Boren Scholarship and Fullbright in the future.
Why did you decide to apply for the CLS Urdu language program?
I guess I never truly understood the value of languages and communication until I entered college. Growing up, I had the perfect opportunity to master Urdu because my parents and extended family all speak the language. Unfortunately, I didn't take advantage of this. Coming to Boston College peaked my interest in the Arabic language because of the college's emphasis on spirituality and discussion. I realized the importance of Arabic to my Muslim identity through this formal theological education, and even decided to minor in the language. Transitioning to Urdu language studies this upcoming summer was not a random decision. Rather, by learning Arabic, I realized the value of all languages and decided I wanted to learn the native tongue of my Pakistani family. There is only so much one can understand through translations, and in order to better understand my religion and culture, I feel like it's necessary for me to become proficient in these critical languages. My Arabic language studies will continue through my coursework at BC, and I plan to continue Urdu studies outside of the classroom.
Was there another country where you could study Urdu? If so, why India?
India is the only option to study Urdu for the CLS. I believe some Urdu programs were held in Pakistan a few years ago. But because my family is originally from Pakistan, I'm happy for the opportunity to explore India, a country I've never been to.
What is the application process?
The application involves multiple essays, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and an official transcript. After the application submission, there are several "cuts" made to the application pool. The total process, from the application to hearing if you've been selected as a scholarship recipient. is about six months.
What will you do during your two months in India? Will you travel during your two months in India?
In Lucknow, I'll be studying Urdu and exploring the city. It's the 8th largest city in India and supposedly the "cultural hub" of the country, so I'll have a lot to explore for sure.The CLS program also brings us to New Delhi for a few days during our trip. In addition to that, I've been making some contacts in the city that will help me travel to various organizations and sites.
Where else have you traveled to?
I've been to Pakistan several times while growing up--I even lived there for two years. I've also been to Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Nicaragua, and the United Arab Emirates.
What were you doing in Dubai?
I attended the Insight Dubai Conference in Dubai from March 22-28, just a few weeks ago. It's a women's leadership conference hosted by the Dubai Women's College in which 65 female students from around the world participate with 65 students from the Dubai Women's College. We explored issues relevant in today's globalized world and the Arabic culture, such as governance, Shariah law, and women's empowerment. We also were immersed in the culture of the United Arabic Emirates, and visited places such as the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. We even went dune-bashing on a desert safari!
Where else would you like to travel/study?
I have a lot of plans for next summer! Through the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program, I have the opportunity to take part in an internship program of my choice next summer. My plan is to go abroad to the Middle East for my internship. This summer in India, I'll study institutions that care for mental illness in India as the beginning of an extended project on international mental healthcare disparities. Following this summer's program, I hope to begin research in the Middle East on how stigmatization of mental health may affect its treatment in these regions. I'm not sure exactly which countries yet, but I do hope for the opportunity to speak Arabic wherever I go. We'll see if my plans come to fruition, but as of now, I'm ready to go!
How long have you been studying Arabic?
I began learning how to read the Arabic alphabet when I was 6 years old. That's when I started attending Islamic School on Sundays, and we were expected to read the Qur'an in its original language. I'll admit, I learned to read Arabic quite reluctantly back in the day. My real study of Arabic began freshmen year of college because of the language requirement at BC. I figured, why not learn the hardest language possible to fulfill this requirement? Actually, I thought taking Arabic would be a piece of cake because of my exposure to it as a child. Well, joke was on me because it ended up being harder than I thought and I spent much of last year slaving away in the library trying to write simple sentences in the language. I found this study very rewarding and decided to continue with Arabic. I am now two years in and couldn't be more excited for the next four semesters of language study.
How did you become interested in mental health issues?
I've always been interested in the healthcare field--probably because both my parents have medical professions. My interest in mental health arose during one of my trips to Pakistan. I realized that many kids my age are taken out of schools because of mental disabilities or illnesses. They aren't given sufficient care or professional help. I'm lucky enough to live in the US and have so many resources available to me. The disparities between my situation and my friends' and families' situations in Pakistan surprised me, and since these discoveries, all I've wanted to do was make our situations more equal. Tackling mental healthcare treatment inequalities is a great way to start.
Any plans to learn Persian?
My first priorities are definitely Urdu and Arabic--I'm hoping to become trilingual by the time I'm 25. Maybe I'll start Persian after that. :)
What do you like to do in your free time, when you're not learning incredibly difficult languages?
I realize that I don't have too much free time at school--I'm overwhelmed with classes, clubs, and my internship. But then again, BC students always find themselves this busy. But when I am free, my favorite activity is probably conversation. I can talk to anyone about anything; there's also nothing I love more than meeting new people. I'm that annoying girl on the green line who will try to strike up a conversation with you. Maybe that's why I want to learn different languages, to increase my conversation abilities. I also enjoy trying new desserts, being outdoors and exploring new places (specifically by hiking, biking, and running), and having spontaneous dance parties with my brothers.