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SU professor sheds light on psychological impacts of immigration

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Imagine packing up your life and traveling to a new country with different customs, values and norms. Imagine attempting conversation when you don’t even have the words to communicate what you’re thinking.

Imagine finding a home and a job to support your family when you had arrived with nothing. How would you cope? This is the reality many immigrants and refugees face when they arrive in the United States, and it is not easy, physically or mentally.

Monday evening, Dr. Yuki Okubo, who normally teaches abnormal psychology and clinical and counseling psychology at Salisbury University, began the conversation regarding the psychological impacts and cultural adjustments that immigrants can experience.

According to Pew Research Center, there were a record 43.7 million immigrants in the United States in 2016.

Okubo focused in on Asians, who make up 31 percent of the state population in Maryland, and described how many of these immigrants and refugees can experience adjustment issues.

Okubo explained how “acculturative stress,” a feeling of anxiety caused by the demands of adaptation, has been linked to mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms.

These can be triggered by things like changing family dynamics, language barriers and loss of social networks. She noted that some of the most common diagnoses for Asian Pacific Islanders include anxiety-related disorders such as adjustment disorder, substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These challenges and feelings are not isolated to immigrants and refugees, either. Inspired by his communications class, junior Hein Aung attended the seminar to gain more perspective on the topic.

As an international student, Aung saw the presentation from a different perspective than most SU students.

“Some of the things she presented in the speech I felt were occurring to me in the past few months,” Aung said. “Some of these topics are things happening to me.”

As per SU’s Undergraduate Enrollment Report for fall 2018, Asian students only make up 3.7 percent of the undergraduate student body in comparison to the 70.3 percent of white students.

These statistics reveal why it’s important for students as a body to communicate about “acculturative stress” and mental health on the college campus.

Other students such as Thomas Sister were able to relate Okubo’s discussion to their career fields.

Sister was inspired to come out to “get more of a global perspective on some of the hardships that these migrants, refugees or SLEs experience … and to open up [his] worldview.”

Sister is planning on going to graduate school for clinical psychology and felt the information he learned could help him counsel and understand immigrants in the future.

In her presentation, Okubo also stressed the importance of communication and conversations.

“Not just about [textual] concepts, but also really getting to know individuals, so we can personalize what it’s like,” Okubo said, “because SU community has diversity.”

Okubo’s presentation communicated ideas of embracing new cultures and learning from others, so we can grow a respect and appreciation for others, building not only a culturally rich campus, but also a more tolerant community.



Staff writer

Featured photo: Dr. Yuki Okubo describes facilitating dialogue using a cultural genogram (Megan Souder image).

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