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Honoring Their Stories: Exploring the Richness of the Refugee Experience

by Ana Aracelly Olguín & Stephanie C. Sanders-Smith - 2021

Background/Context: Since 1975, 3 million refugees have resettled in the United States. However, researchers and educators know little about the lives of refugee children and families entering the American educational system. Much of the extant research groups refugee children in families with other immigrant groups, failing to recognize the complex histories that children fleeing civil unrest bring with them.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study brings a spotlight to the story of a refugee family from Guatemala, focusing on their experiences premigration, during migration, and after resettlement in the United States. Our focus was on seldom-heard experiences from the perspective of a refugee family. Members of the family left their home country because of civil war to resettle in a foreign country but within a familiar community. They found resettlement more challenging than they expected; they had difficulty activating cultural capital within this new field because of varying levels of community support.

Research Design: This is an intrinsic case study that explores the specific case of a mother and daughter. Participants were interviewed at length about their migration experiences. Interviews were analyzed in multiple cycles of coding, with a focus on the participants’ own words and emotional responses. This study uses a Bourdieusian lens for analyses and to aid in defining feelings of unease that the participants described when reflecting on their experiences.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Learning about a refugee family’s journey is a privileged experience. There is much that educators and others who work with refugee children can learn from extended conversations with families. This study is one example of millions of stories that children bring with them into the classroom. This study’s impact is to honor and give a platform to the refugee population whose voices are often not heard in schoolhouses across the county.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 7, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23779, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 10:39:46 AM

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About the Author
  • Ana Aracelly Olguín
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    ANA ARACELLY OLGUÍN, Ph.D., is a proud immigrant from Guatemala and a doctoral candidate in curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has a strong research interest in teacher preparation programs, with a particular focus on refugee populations entering early childhood programs. She has recently published a chapter in Contemporary Perspectives in Early Childhood Education.
  • Stephanie C. Sanders-Smith
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE C. SANDERS-SMITH, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction and the Yew Chung–Bernard Spodek scholar in early childhood education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on early childhood teacher preparation, progressive philosophies of early-years pedagogy, and culturally sustaining family engagement. Her work has recently been published in Teaching and Teacher Education and International Studies in the Sociology of Education.
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