Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Chien-Juh Gu

Second Advisor

Dr. Gregory Howard

Third Advisor

Dr. Vincent Lyon-Callo,

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Melinda McCormick,


Refugees, integration, social relations, social ties, resettlement


Refugee resettlement has been studied extensively in the academic realm. Yet, an area that is less understood is among Burmese and Congolese refugees and their adaptation processes in the United States. This study focuses on the development of social relations within these two groups as they navigate interactions within their ethnic group and with the native-born community. Examining the process of how social relations are constructed, this study reveals the nuances of how Burmese and Congolese form close social ties by focusing on four distinct social domains. Illuminating how social relations are formed and maintained within the ethnic community, church community, neighborhood community, and workplace helps uncover the processes that individuals engage in forming social ties.

This research was conducted in western Michigan among the Burmese and Congolese communities in a small suburb of Grand Rapids. Data collection for this study was conducted over nine months and a total of 28 interviews were conducted including 17 Burmese and 8 Congolese refugees, two refugee agency staff, and one Burmese realtor. The findings in this study show that among Burmese and Congolese participants, there are extremely close social ties formed within their ethnic community and church community through various social activities and gatherings that create robust networks of social support. Conversely, the Burmese and Congolese do not form close social ties within their neighborhoods or workplaces due to prejudice, discrimination, mistreatment and hostility. However, there are differences in the experience of each group as the Burmese experiences are significantly less overt, hostile, or strained with native-born individuals than the Congolese reported. By examining social relations among refugees, this study enhances our scholarly understanding of the mechanisms by which refugees form social ties and in turn what constitutes segmented social relations as the Burmese and Congolese in this study face various forms of strained social interactions with the native-born community.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access