Coping, culture, and meaning in the reeducation camp experience

Arthur William, III Matson (2001)

This study investigated the coping strategies, the influence of the Vietnamese culture on such strategies, and the meaning 19 survivors of Communist reeducation camps attributed to that experience. The reeducation camps, the family, the man, the culture, and immigration history were described. A literature review concerning coping, culture, and the meanings various prisoner populations attributed to the experience was accomplished. The research paradigm was based on Heidegger's (1962) hermeneutic method of inquiry, and the research method was based on Riessman's (1993) narrative analysis. Pernice's (1994) cross cultural requirements for a qualitative study were maintained. The use of a translator and the difficulties inherent in translation, particularly correspondence regarding emotional terms, was discussed. The interview process, including a trial interview was loosely structured with audiotaping and transcription of the material. Data analysis was conducted using Miles and Hubermann's (1994) traditional analysis sequence. Dependability was maintained by using Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, and Allen's (1993) criteria for research methods. Validity was established by using Riessman's criteria for narrative validity. Reeducation camp survivors report individual and collective coping strategies which are generally similar to those described in the literature for both non-Vietnamese survivors of concentration camps and other Vietnamese survivors of reeducation camps. Three exceptions are noted: the use of prayer and resistance as coping techniques and the reporting of emotional responses to their situations by the interviewees. Vietnamese cultural factors influencing coping strategies are strong family bonds, superstitious beliefs, acceptance of the situation, belief in one's destiny, patience, and role playing. Initially, the survivors understand their imprisonment in several ways, the most common being revenge by the North Vietnamese Communists. Over time the majority of the Catholic survivors understand captivity as their destiny or as a trial, which they had to endure. The majority of Buddhist survivors continue to maintain revenge is the motive. The clinical and research implications of the results of this study are also discussed.