Finding the Familiar in Rural America: How a Rural Lifestyle Helps Older Karen Adapt to Life in the United States




Refugee resettlement, Karen people, Acculturation, Elders, Rural, Aging refugees


The United States resettled over 70,000 ethnic Karen refugees between 2006 and 2019 due to a protracted civil war in Burma. The vast majority of these refugees have been resettled in urban areas despite the fact that most of them are from rural villages. The refugee-resettlement experience can be daunting, but the challenges are often more acute for elders (Johnson 2017). The aim of this study was to examine how a rural lifestyle may help older Karen as they adjust to their new lives in the US. Our findings suggest that rural living may soften the effects of certain acculturation stressors due to the familiarity of rural living and other factors. In particular, a rural lifestyle may mitigate acculturation stress specifically for elders in three ways: (1) promoting a healthy lifestyle; (2) sustaining or building relationships between elders and grandchildren and other youth; and (3) promoting skills and knowledge that can lead to feelings of self-worth and dignity for older people with a refugee background. In this article, we discuss how the experiences of one community of resettled Karen refugees seem to offer a counter-narrative to the “vulnerability trope” (King et al. 2017) that often dominates portrayals of older resettled refugees.

Author Biography

Daniel Gilhooly, The University of Central Missouri

Associate Professor

ELL Program


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