Technology to Support Newcomer Adaptation

People who relocate to new communities experience challenges such as social-network reconstruction and insufficient information for daily needs. When these challenges are not well addressed, newcomers face additional difficulties, such as mental health issues and limited employment resources. The research goal is to investigate how newcomers utilize information and communciation technologies (ICTs) to address challenges of relocation. This project also aims to identify barriers to their ICT use and propose technical solutions to address the barriers.

This project contains the following sub-projects:

  • ICTs and Immigrant Adaptation Needs
  • People-Nearby Applications and Social Capital


  • ICTs and Immigrant Adaptation Needs

    Immigrants face challenges that all newcomers face. Indeed, immigrants additionally face cultural and language differences, which further increase difficulties in adaptation. Research suggests that information and communication technologies (ICTs) foster immigrants’ social capital and facilitate their adaptation. This project aims to understand how immigrants use ICTs to develop their social capital and access resources to address their adaptation needs.
    • Immigrants use technologies for socialization in new countries, but HCI scholars have not explored this research space. In my dissertation, I am adopting the social exchange theory to explore this research space. My first study suggested that trust is the key to addressing immigrants’ concerns about social exchange through technologies. Following this finding, my ongoing work will be focused on designing interventions to address these trust-related concerns. My dissertation should shed light on inclusive design supporting immigrants’ socialization, and inform research on other newcomers (e.g., domestic migrants and refugees) and specific forms of resource exchange (e.g., ridesharing and language exchange).
    • The key to successful adaptation for immigrants in a new country is their social capital, or those resources embedded in their social networks. Research suggests that information and communication technologies (ICTs) foster immigrants’ social capital and facilitate their adaptation. However, it is unclear how recent immigrants use ICTs to develop social capital and how this supports their adaptation needs. We performed semi-structured interviews with thirteen recent immigrants and five long-term immigrants. We found that ICTs and technology-mediated connections: (1) easily addressed immigrants’ settlement needs, (2) minimally addressed their financial and cultural needs, and (3) were not used to address their emotional needs. To support recent immigrants’ adaptation, we suggest ways for ICTs to (1) reduce uncertainty about meeting local-born populations, (2) foster reciprocity among immigrant communities, and (3) facilitate safe resource exchanges.
  • People-Nearby Applications and Social Capital

    People-Nearby Applications (PNAs), such as Tinder and Badoo, bridge online interactions with offline ones. These PNA-mediated offline encounters with local populations could be benefcial for a newcomer to establish new social connections. Understanding how PNAs support newcomers' relocation experience thus leads to insights for technology to facilitate smooth relocation.
    • Prior research suggests that individuals are motivated to use People-Nearby Applications (PNAs) to meet new people offline and that these individuals receive benefits such as social and cultural capital from their offline connections. It is unclear, however, what the impetus behind these motivations are and whether individuals are motivated to use PNAs for other reasons. To explore these questions, we analyzed a dataset of 14 active PNA users' semi-structured interviews and found that participants' first experiences using PNAs were associated with significant life events such as moving to a new area or ending a relationship. We conducted an online survey (N = 142) to explore these findings further and investigate whether they generalized across a broader set of active PNA users. We confirm our past findings and contribute ways in which future technologies can detect specific life changes to increase the opportunities for individuals to benefit from PNAs
    • People-nearby applications (PNAs), such as Tinder and Badoo, help millions of users to make new social connections everyday. However, little is known about how PNAs support offline interactions or what application features are associated with offline encounters. Research suggests that these applications support the development of social capital, but the forms of social capital are unclear. We conducted interviews with 14 active PNA users to address these questions. Our results suggest that while existing PNA features such as filters, profile photos, and chat support online connections, most participants used non-PNA platforms to build mutual trust before meeting offline. In addition, PNA users developed two forms of social (informal and formal) and cultural capital (incorporated and symbolic). We offer insights into how PNAs and non-PNAs intersect to foster feelings of safety and trust prior to offline meetings, and we propose ways for PNAs to support the exchange of cultural and social capital.