Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Migration, Identity, Well-being, Costa Rica, Nicaragua

Major Advisor

Dr. Roy G. D'Andrade

Associate Advisor

Dr. Pamela Erickson

Associate Advisor

Dr. W. Penn Handwerker

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This research explores immigrant adaptation and well-being in Costa Rica where the growing number of Nicaraguan immigrants has been challenging concepts of national and personal identity among immigrants and the host population. In this context of a perceived immigration crisis, nationality has become the most frequently invoked basis for the differences in character and culture that many Costa Ricans perceive to exist between Nicaraguan immigrants and themselves. This research builds upon existing scholarship suggesting that a strong sense of identification with one’s country of origin protects against a variety of stressors faced by immigrants, particularly when it forms part of a bicultural identity that fuses aspects of both home and host cultures. This research also explores how social relations between groups influence identity formation and moderate the protective effects of identity on psychological well-being.

The results of this project are based upon 12 months of ethnographic research in San José Costa Rica, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods to reveal shared cultural models of identity among Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans. This research operationalizes the construct of cultural identity by using individuals’ levels of cultural consonance with shared cultural models as a measure of their identification with home and host cultures. A statistically significant relationship was found between bicultural identity and low levels of perceived stress. Tentative support was found for a relationship between immigrants’ perceptions of strong social boundaries and consonance with the Costa Rican identity model though the results were not statistically significant.