As a final project for their Master’s degree in Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Nikolia Apostolou and Lim Wui Liang produced a research-based online documentary titled ‘Refugee Syndrome’. The duo, who explored the psychology of Bhutanese refugees in New York City through the research-based project, talked to Bhutan News Service about the findings of the research. Excerpts:
BNS: How did you get impress to carry on a research story on Bhutanese refugees in New York City?Liang/Nikolia: We came across the story in The New York Times in September 2009, and thought that we could produce a more in-depth story over time. The day after the story was published; we paid a visit to TP Mishra, and started our project that day. As Mishra’s blog was mentioned in the article, it helped us establish contacts with Bhutanese refugees in Bronx.
BNS: How long did you take to complete the research?
Liang/Nikolia: It took us six months for us to complete the project. We began interviews in September and finished editing the online documentary in March.
BNS: What was the main focus of your research?
Liang/Nikolia: After many interviews with the refugees, we found a common thread: the struggle to shake off the dependency which they have developed while living in refugee camps in Nepal. This became our main focus of the story, and hence the title, “The Refugee Syndrome” was chosen.
BNS: Tell us the most challenging problem faced by refugees after resettlement?
Liang/Nikolia: For the Bhutanese refugees, we feel that there are two: The struggle to be independent and provide for their own living, and adapting to different cultures and languages.
BNS: What is the main advantage for the resettled refugees?
Liang/Nikolia: They have a home, and are free from persecution. They have the chance to make life better for themselves and for future generations.
BNS: What is the perception of the western world about Bhutan?
Liang/Nikolia: We think that the majority of the Western world sees Bhutan as a mystical Himalayan country with snow-capped mountains. Their renowned Gross Happiness Index further perpetuates the notion of a place of peace and love. But during our research, we also came across “untold” stories that probably challenge Bhutan’s such a philosophy of gross national happiness.
BNS: What do refugees need to do, in particular, before coming to the USA through resettlement program?
Liang/Nikolia: First of all, they need to prepare themselves mentally and physically to the new environment of the United States. To do so, they have to learn English, and get as much information as they can about the culture and work environment of the city that they will be resettling in. Most importantly, they have to go there with an open mind, and shed whatever identity they have as refugees and start living.
BNS: Your research was solely focused on refugees based in New York City. Didn’t you conclude that this is a wrong place for resettlement?
Liang/Nikolia: New York City is a tough city for anyone. And to resettle refugees here may seem like a wrong choice. However, we believe that the experience of adapting to life here would help them in the future.
BNS: Tell us the most interesting finding during the course of your research.
Liang/Nikolia: It would be the events in Bhutan over the last 20 years that led to the exile of these refugees. Not much has been described in detail in mainstream media.
BNS: Do you feel these refugees will have better future here in the USA?
Liang/Nikolia: Yes, because they are free, and with hard work, they will be able to have a much better life.
Editor’s note: Click here to watch their online documentary.