How can we use intercultural support groups to help resettled refugee teens in the United States find community and recover from trauma?


What you need to know


Personal Connection 

Last summer, I spent my time mentoring a teenage girl named Walwala. She had recently resettled to the Bay Area after having to flee Afghanistan as a refugee. I volunteered with a local resettlement program to help her with the adjustment to her new home. At the beginning, she was very shy and closed off. However, as the weeks passed, she became more comfortable in her space and started to share her experience with me. By the end of the summer, a friendship had blossomed. My experience with Walwala taught me how important it is for resettled refugee teens to find connections, because building relationships is an essential way that we can recover from trauma and decrease isolation. My goal for this project was to take this inspirational experience to a larger scale, so we can foster more positive resettlement experiences for resettled teens across the United States. 


The Resettled Refugee Teen Experience

After resettling in the United States, refugee teens have a hard time adjusting to their new homes, which can result in stress, anxiety, and depression (Mulligan). First of all, most teens are still processing traumatic the events that they experienced, such as witnessing deaths, the destruction of their homes, and bombings (Refugee Health Youth and Mental Health). Moreover, they are under intense pressure to adapt to their new community and learn English. This can lead to a  struggle to balance both their traditional culture and the new American culture (Mulligan).  

Unfortunately, resettled refugee teens receive little support for the challenges they face. Most programs tend to focus on supporting parents and younger children, so refugee teens are overlooked during a very crucial life stage of development. Some websites offer vague models for ways to support refugee teens, but not many other options exist (Mulligan). Furthermore, teens in resettled families won’t usually receive help for their mental health issues because of stigma around these disorders in their cultures (Burbage). To learn more about the experience of a resettled refugee teen watch the short video below. 

(How Rasmi Moussa, A Teenage Syrian Refugee, Resettled In America After Escaping The War | TODAY)


Positive Psychology: Social Connections

According to one of Positive Psychology’s founders, Martin Seligman, relationships are one of the five essential parts of well-being, along with engagement, meaning, positive emotions, and accomplishment (Seligman). Many scientific studies have found that having relationships is extremely important because they decrease isolation (Relationships). Moreover, other recent studies are finding that people who have solid social connections are more capable of generating positive feelings than those without. There are also many connections between positive relationships and increased physical health (Social Connections Drive the ‘Upward Spiral’). 


(PBS (Positive Behaviour Support))


To better support resettled refugee teens, we need to create programs that focus on building positive relationships. By practicing this positive psychology, these teens can know that they are not alone in their experiences, feel less isolated, and start to recover from their trauma.


Response: Intercultural Support Program


Why this model?

I have designed a model for the first four weeks of an intercultural support group centered around the positive psychology concept of connection. The purpose of this group is to allow resettled refugee teens to build relationships with other resettled teens, as well as teens who have lived in the US for much longer periods of time. By creating these connections, the program will help make refugee teens feel less alone in their struggle to adapt to life in the US, and make their adjustment to American culture less stressful. The group will also support refugee teens in feeling connected to the home and culture that they have been harshly torn apart from. 


General Structure

The support group will be made up of a mix of about 10 local teens and resettled refugee teens. Under the supervision and support of a local refugee resettlement organization employee or trained volunteer, the group will meet on a weekly basis for approximately three hours. 

Each meeting will start with an introduction circle where the group members will get to know one another and participate in ice-breaker games. Following this, the majority of the meetings will be spent doing activities that promote engagement and help build positive connections between the teens. At the end of the meetings, the teens will do reflective journaling and a closing circle. The closing time will be a chance for them to practice gratitude and process the connections they’ve made that day. Overall, the goal of this structure is to create a consistent experience in which the participants will feel safe to share about themselves and bond with others. 

Specific Design


How you can help


Although this program is yet to occur, there are so many ways that you can still support resettled refugee teens! Here are some ideas: 

  • Share this project with your local refugee resettlement program (ex = The International Rescue Committee or Chatholic Charities).  
  • Reach out to a local refugee resettlement program and volunteer as a teen mentor. 
  • Volunteer to tutor resettled refugee teens. 
  • Donate to a refugee resettlement program. 
  • Help a program resettle a refugee family. 
  • Start a club at your school to support resettled teens. 
  • Show kindness towards refugee teens you meet. 
  • Share your knowledge! Let your friends, family, school, and community know about the challenges that resettled teens are facing and that there are simple ways to support them.


Wait! Before you leave … 


Thank you for taking the time to explore my project! Please answer these quick questions in the comments below. 


1. What is something I should add to the design of my support group model or modify to make it more effective? 


2. What is the name of your local refugee resettlement organization? 


3. What is one simple step you could take to start supporting resettled refugee teens in your community? 




Share this project
  1. April 24, 2020 by gayatri

    Hi Katie! Your website is very well done, your video about Rasmi Moussa and his experience is really powerful. I like your support group activity ideas, especially the one about cooking, because, at least for me, food is one of the main ways my family stays connected to our culture, and sharing that is always special.

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