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Faculty Research Spotlight: Dr. Brian Lam

Published September 24, 2021

Sense of Place: Search for Meaning among Vietnamese Americans

Biran LamDr. Brian Lam, Professor of the School of Social Work,  has been working with graduate students in Social Work to conduct research in examining the importance of sense of place and its impact on developmental trajectory of Vietnamese Americans. Currently, Dr. Lam has two on-going projects:

Pathway to Success: Dr Lam works with Vietnamese American community in Southern California to examine the role of possible selves (personal visions) in academic and psychological adjustment among Vietnamese American adolescents. Particularly, this study draws on the concept of place identity with an emphasis on the transactional elements of place (schools, community) and individual and psychological processes. In preliminary findings, Dr Lam and his team found adolescents engage actively in “place” making in terms of nurturing emotional and cultural attachment to the community. The findings illustrate adolescents make sense of the place through their active exploration. Adolescents purposely engage in searching and cultivating opportunities for connection to specific place. They examine skillfully their place with strategies to maximize their benefits. The findings suggest adolescents exhibit a degree of competence in comprehending their “place” environment via knowledge of their community, and in interacting with their “place” environment via establishing reciprocal relationships with community members, and fostering cultural connection and cultural integration.

Dying in America: a narrative of death contemplation among Vietnamese American Elders. In this study, Dr Lam and his research team explore perceptions of end-of-life stage in the context of “place”. Narratives of the experiences of the Vietnam War and the exodus to America are documented and analyzed its impact on the aging process. Particularly, the study also investigates the role of cultural identity and place identity in shaping their views of death contemplation by examining the association of “place”, their subjective perspectives of the aging process in their “second homeland” and their struggle to maintain the continuity in their life span.  The effort to recreate a sense of place and minimize the disruption in their life has been found in this research. Dr Lam and his team have noted the evidence of “structuration” of place through arrays of symbolizations representing Vietnamese culture and their migration experience. Place makers (community leaders) have made a concerted effort to organize the Vietnamese community as a place where first and second and third generations can embrace their culture in the context of the mainstream.  

Giang, J., & Lam, B (2020). Exploring a Sense of Place Among Vietnamese

American Elders. Professional Development: The International Journal of Continuing Social Work Education, V23, N2, p. 44.