Date of Award

Winter 3-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Karen Monkman

Second Advisor

Gonzalo Obelleiro

Third Advisor

Sung Park-Johnson


The purpose of this narrative inquiry study was to understand the essence of the experience of ESL refugee students who completed high school in United States public schools and who are currently in two-year or four-year colleges. All participants in this study came to the United States from refugee camps or countries neighboring their home countries due to war and violence in their home countries. A narrative inquiry approach was used, with semi-structure interviews to understand the refugees’ school lived experiences. Ten participants were interviewed, aged between 18 and 26. Seven participants were interviewed twice, and the other three were interviewed only once due to their limited availability. The findings show that refugee students had both negative and positive experiences in United States public schools. However, their positive experience seemed to overshadow their negative experience. The refugee students had more positive relationships with their ESL teachers compared with their mainstream teachers, and they were engaged in their ESL classes better than to other classes. Such positivity seems to be because these ESL teachers were supportive, shared similar background with their students, and were better trained to teach refugee students. This study shows that these refugee students were enthusiastic, dreamers, and were following the path of success. Such positive attitude these students have seemed to be because of students’ motivation, teachers’ support, and the teaching practices performed by their teachers. As the United States continues to welcome refugees from around the world, this study will help teachers to improve their understanding of refugee students, and it will shape recommendations for further scholarly research.

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