Three Stages of Refugee Resettlement (Happy, Sad, and Happy again)

ELL students on a trip to the Nelson Atkins Museum.
Mohammed and Aye Nour, two of our students from Syria showing their artwork to their mother.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” – Warsan Shire

The refugee journey towards resettlement is said to involve three stages. Stage one, “happy”, predates the events that cause a person to leave his home for new lands. Stage two, “sad”, is contemporaneous with the events that motivate (or more aptly, force) a people to leave their home for a new one. The final stage, “happy again” denotes a period of resettlement and re-acclimatization to normalcy.

Our job at the Language Services Department of the Kansas City Public Schools involves playing a critical role in the third stage: “happy again”. Along with our many community partners, we help refugee families feel safe in their new home, and we ensure that their children are afforded the best education possible regardless of cultural and language limitations.

In this piece, drawing from the experiences of some of our students and staff who were previously refugees, we discuss the different stages of the refugee resettlement process.


Mohammed Khalil (7th grade) and Aye Nour Khalil (6th grade)

Most people who move to this country as refugees do so because it is the only choice available to them. Almost all of these people flee their home countries due to wars and the horrendous atrocities that accompany them. Prior to the wars that rendered their homes unlivable, many of the refugees who now live in our communities were proud, hardworking men and women who had deep emotional attachments to their lands and cultural heritage. For many, the lands also represented the sole source of subsistence and wealth, thus, separation from their lands meant poverty and desperation.


This stage is probably best called “sad, relief, gratitude, and then sad again”. This is because “sadness” alone does not quite capture the complex emotions that arise after the expiration of stage one. Usually when war breaks out, would-be refugees find themselves disconsolate due to the dangers to them, their families, and their loved ones. When they get rescued or manage to escape to a refugee camp, they initially experience feelings of relief and gratitude. However, the harsh realities of living in a refugee camp quickly change these positive feelings to that of sadness. Also, some refugees who still have loved ones caught in the midst of the conflict they had just escaped experience some form of survivors’ guilt. In camps that are, sometimes, lacking in basic amenities, these new refugees wait to again become part of civil society and reclaim their pride—and, if possible, their ancestral lands.


ELL students at the Nelson Atkins Museum.

Stage three, “happy again” can really be so called only if communities in which refugees are resettled provide the resources needed for these refugees to adjust not only to a new culture but also to normalcy. It is not particularly easy transitioning from either living in a war zone, or a refugee camp, to living as a fully adjusted member of a “normal” community. Add to this the fact that many refugees do not speak English, it becomes clear that it is essential that new refugees get as much support as possible when they first make the transition to the community they are resettled in. This is where organizations like the Jewish Vocation Services, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, and Della Lamb Community Services play integral roles. Together with these organizations, we work on getting new refugee families settled into their new home while also providing ongoing support for language acquisition, access to important community resources, and mental health.


We are proud of all our families who have survived incredible hardships in their journey to become part of this community. They are from all over the world: Burma, Syria, Iraq, Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Vietnam, Honduras, and so on. And we believe that this diversity is a key source of our strength.

Below we have attached four stories that give human dimensions to our descriptions above. We hope that in reading them you gain further insight into the refugee experience, especially in Kansas City, Missouri.

  1. Nshongore’s story:
  2. Providence’s story:
  3. August Baw’s story:
  4. Kadomo’s story: