|Thesis focuses on Red River Valley|
A University of North Dakota graduate student will defend his thesis, "Liberian Refugees in the Red River Valley: A Geography of Hope," Tuesday, July 18, 9 a.m. in 157 Ireland Hall.
Lane Cowger's study examines the resettlement and adjustment of Liberian refugees in the North Dakota cities of Grand Forks and Fargo, two cities that have been resettling refugees for decades through local Lutheran Social Service of North Dakota offices.
"These people represent the human fallout of a protracted civil war in Liberia where hundreds of thousands were forced to flee to neighboring West African states to avoid violence," said Cowger, a Grand Forks native who is pursuing his Master of Arts degree in geography.
Data was collected by conducting surveys and interviews with members of this group. Cowger said "snowball sampling," which builds a viable study group through referrals by respondents to others who share similar characteristics, was used due to the relatively small number (fewer than 200) of Liberian refugees in the two communities. The surveys and interviews were designed to determine the study groups socio-demographic characteristics, ascertain their level of educational attainment and work experience while evaluating how this translated into the local workplace, identify difficulties and successes experienced by the study group since their arrival, and find out what aspects of the resettlement process could be changed to make resettlement easier for refugees.
"It seems that Liberian refugees are doing quite well in their transitions to life in the Red River Valley. Most start working in entry-level positions in the retail, service, and manufacturing sectors. Some dislike these low-level positions, but these jobs allow them to become financially independent within a short time after resettlement and support their families. A majority of respondents were continuing their educations through coursework at community colleges and local universities or planned to in the near future. Nearly all respondents stated that they planned to stay in the area for the next five years," said Cowger.
He said problems experienced by the study group included separation of family, adjusting to the cold winter weather of North Dakota, and, sometimes, dissatisfaction with available employment, housing, and transportation options in Grand Forks and Fargo. "That said, most respondents were very grateful to be afforded a second chance of such proportions. They are able to live without the fear of violence or persecution that haunted them in the past," said Cowger.