Understanding the Specialized Needs of Burmese Refugees in U.S. Colleges and Universities

Main Article Content

M. Gail Hickey
Sheena Choi


The recent rapid influx of refugee students into U.S. schools has been a learning experience for all concerned. Not only do U.S. refugees come with memories of trauma, they also have specialized educational needs that differ from international students’ or voluntary migrants’ needs. 


Recent refugees have come to the United States with very different socio-historical backgrounds from the majority of U.S. university students. Refugee students have very different stories of integration and incorporation in America than either immigrants or international students. Differentiated experiences demand differentiated treatment.


The scholarship on U.S. refugees in college is scarce. The authors seek to add to the available scholarship by advancing understanding of Burmese refugee students’ specialized educational needs through personal narratives. The authors also hope to improve educational provisions for refugee students through attention to their multiple responsibilities and socio-psychological needs. Finally, the authors recommend effective pedagogical strategies for use with refugee students.

Article Details

Research articles
Author Biographies

M. Gail Hickey, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Dr. M. Gail Hickey is Professor of Education and Director of the Scholarship of Service-Learning at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, USA.

Dr. Sheena Choi is Associate Professor of Management, Department of Management and Marketing, Doermer School of Business at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, USA.

Sheena Choi, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Dr. Sheena Choi is Associate Professor of Management, Department of Management and Marketing, Doermer School of Business
at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, USA.


Abbas, Tahir (2007). British South Asians and pathways into selective schooling: Social class, culture and ethnicity. British Educational Research Journal, 33, 1, 75-90.

Adams, L. & Kirova, A. (2006). Introduction: Global migration and the education of children. In L. Adams & A. Kirova (Eds.), Global migration and education: Schools, children, and families (1-12). Lawrence Earlbaum: Mahwah, NJ.

Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and curriculum. New York: Routledge-Farmer.

Arlington Diocese Office of Resettlement. Refugee facts. Retrieved on 10/13/2004 from http://www.artligtonrefugeeservices.com/new_page_3.htm

Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (2014). Invisible newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States. http://apiasf.org/research/APIASF_Burma_Bhutan_Report.pdf, retrieved August 6, 2015.

Bal, Aydin, & Arzubiaga, Angela E. (2015). Ahiska refugee families’ configuration of resettlement and academic success in U.S. schools. Urban Education, 49, 6, 635-665.

Bemak, F. (1989). Cross-cultural family therapy with Southeast Asian refugees. Journal of Strategies and Systems Therapies 8, 22-27.

Bista, K. (2011). Academic dishonesty among international students in higher education. In J. Miller & J. Groccia (Eds.), To improve the Academy: Vol. 30, Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 159-172). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bloch, A. (2002). Refugee’s opportunities and barriers in employment and training. Leeds, UK: Department for Work and Pensions.

Boyden, J., de Berry, J., Feeny, T., & Hart, J. (2002). Children Affected by Conflict in South Asia: A Review of Trends and Issues Identified Though Secondary Research. RSC Working paper No. 7. Oxford, UK: Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

Cain, C. (1991) ‘Personal Stories: Identity Acquisition and Self-Understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous.’ Ethos, 19(2): 210-253.

Capps, R., Newland, K., Fratzke, S., Groves, S., Fix, M. McHugh, M., & Auclair, G. (2015). The integration outcomes of U.S. refugees: Successes and challenges. Migration Policy Institute Report. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/integration-outcomes-us-refugees-successes-and-challenges, retrieved August 6, 2015.

Choi, S. (2011). Ethnic Brethren and the National “Other”: North Korean Youths in South Korea. Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, 1, (2): 51-57.

Chung, R. C.-Y., & Lin, K. M. (1994). Help-seeking behavior among Southeast Asian refugees. Journal of Community Psychology 22, 109-120.

Church World Services (CWS) Statistics on-line. Retrieved on 5/16/2005 from http://www.churchworldservice.org/Immigration/stats.html.

Constantinides, J. (1992). Academic challenges and opportunities. In D. McIntire & P. Willer (Eds.), Working with international students and scholars on American campuses (pp. 23-47). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 360599).

Corcoran, Ann (2015). 36,144 refugees admitted to US in first seven months of FY2015. A Refugee Resettlement Watch Report, at https://refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/36144-refugees-admitted-to-us-in-first-seven-months-of-fy2015/ (retrieved August 6, 2015).

Desjarais, R. (2000) ‘The Makings of Personhood in a shelter for people considered

homeless and mentally’, Ethos, 27(4): 466-489.

Earnest, J., Joyce, A., de Mori, G., & Silvagni, G. (2010). Are universities responding to the needs of students from refugee backgrounds? Australian Journal of Education 54, 2, 155-174.

Fennelly, K., & Palasz. N. (2003). English language proficiency of immigrants and refugees in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. International Migration 41, 5, 93-125.

Field, J. (2005). Social capital and lifelong learning. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

Flannery, Mary Ellen (2007, May). Almost from scratch. NEA Today, 31-33.

Gall, Meredith D., Joyce P. Gall, and Walter R. Borg (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Gibson, M. A. (1997). Complicating the immigrant/involuntary minority typology. Anthropology & Education Quarterly Review 28, 3, 431-454.

Glaser, B. G. (2005). The grounded theory: Perspective III. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.

Haggard, S. and Noland, M. (2011). Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights Into North Korea. Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Harden, B. (2012). Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Pearson.

Hawk, D. (2003). The Hidden Gulag. Washington: US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Washington: US-Korea Institute at SAIS, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University.

Heidegger, M. (1982). On the Way to Language. New York: Harper & Row.

Hek, R. (2007). The role of education in the settlement of young refugees in the UK: The experiences of young refugees. Routledge 17, 3, 157-170.

Huntley, H. S. (1993). Adult international students: Problems of adjustment (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 355886).

Kang, C. & Rigoulot, P. (2006). The Aquariums of Pyungyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag. Basic Books.

Kim, J. & Jang, D. (2007) ‘Aliens Among Brothers?: The Status and Perception of North Korean Refugees in South Korea’, Asian Perspective, 31(2): 5-22.

Kim, M. (2010). Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country. Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth UK: Lowman and Littlefield.

Kim, Y. (2009) Making National Subjects: Education and adaptation Among North Korean Immigrants in South Korea. Unpublished Dissertation. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii.

Kim, Y. & Kim, S. (2009). Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor. New York: Colombia University Press:

Kirova, A. (2006). Moving Childhoods: Young Children’s Lived Experiences of Being Between Language and Cultures. In Adams, L. & Kirova, A. (eds.). Global Migration and Education: Schools, Children, and Families. Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum. Pp. 185-198.

Kuo, Ya-Hui (2011). Language challenges faced by international students in the United States. Journal of International Students 1 2, 38-42.

Laurence, J. (2011, 12 August) Insight – North Korean Defections Rise, But Is the South Ready? Reuters. From http://news.indialocals.com/read/2011/08/22/Z2RkZTDlAwR3KmH3ZGD1AN==/fullstory-insight---north-korean-defections-rise--but-is-the-south-ready? (accessed on 3 September 2011).

Lee, K. (2006). The Border-Crossing North Koreans: Current Situations and Future Prospects. Studies Series 06-05. Seoul: Korea Institute for National Unification.

Lee, S. (1996). Unraveling the ‘minor minority’ stereotype: Listening to Asian American youth. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lee, S. J. (1994). Behind the model-minority stereotype: Voices of high- and low-achieving Asian American students. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 25, 413-429.

Matsuoka, J. K. (1990). Differential acculturation among Vietnamese refugees. Social Work 35, 341-345.

Martin, D. C. (2011, May). Refugees and asylees 2010. Washington, D.C.: Office of Immigration Statistics.

McBrien, J. (2005). Educational needs and barriers for refugee students in the United States: A review of literature. Review of Educational Research 75, 3, 329-364.

Middleton, D. & Hewitt, H. (1999) ‘Remembering as Social Practice: Identity and Life

Story Work in Transitions of Care for People with Profound Learning Disabilities.’ Narrative inquiry. 9(1): 97.

Moehling, Krissy Kai (2007). Career guidance education: Helping resettled refugees plan their future. Unpublished masters thesis. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh.

Morrice, L. (2009). Journeys into higher education: The case of refugees in the UK. Teaching in Higher Education 14, 6, 661-672.

Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Myerhoff, B. (1982) ‘Life History Among the Elderly: Performance, Visibility and Remembering’, Crack in the Mirror (J. Ruby (ed.)) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Nguyen, N., & Williams, H. (1989). Transition from East to West: Vietnamese adolescents and their parents. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 28, 505-515.

Office of Refugee Resettlement (2011). Washington, D.C. Retrieved on July 21, 2012 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/.

Omar, Y. S. (2007). Integration experiences and youth perspectives: An exploratory study between school-going Somali youth in Melbourne, Australia, and Minneapolis, USA. Unpublished dissertation. Trobe University: Budoora, VIC. Australia.

Portes, A., & Rumbault, R. (2001). Legacies: The story of the new second generation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Reynolds, Cynthia (2004). Children of war. Maclean’s, 118, 1, 78.

Rong, X., & Preissle, J. (1998). Educating immigrant students: What we need to know to meet the challenge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Rutter, J., Cooley, L., & Sheldon, R. (2007). From refugee to citizen: Standing on my own two feet. London: Metropolitan Support Trust and the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Sheridan, M. (2006). Nation Under a Nuclear Cloud: “Racially Impure” Children Killed. Sunday Times, October 15.

Singer, A., & Wilson, J. H. (2007). Migration information. Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved on July 24, 2012 from http://www.migrationinformation.org/usfocus/display.cfm?ID=585.

Schwandt, T. A. (2001). Dictionary of qualitative inquiry. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Schwartzman, N. (2009, 5 June) ‘Alternative School is First With Principal From North Korea’, Asian Correspondent.com. Available from: http://asiancorrespondent.com/23517/alternativeschool-is-first-with-principal-from-north-korea/ (accessed 24 August 2011).

Swing, W. (2012). Broadening Our Perspective. Forced Migration Review, 39. Pp. 3.

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Service (n. d.). Refugee Arrival Data from Office of the Refugee Resettlement. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/data/refugee_arrival_data.htm on July 26, 2012.

Together (2005) Sae-ter-min chung’so’nyun kyo’yuk ui hyun’hwang kwa kwa’je [Sae-ter-min Youths’ Educational Present and Issues] Seoul: Togetherkorea.

Tollefson, J. (1989). Alien Winds: The Reeducation of America’s Indochinese Refugees. New York: Preager.

Treston, M. (2004). North Korean Memoire: Life of American Agent Who Defected to North Korea. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2011). World refugee day. Retrieved on July 24, 2012 from http://www.unhcr.org/4dfb66ef9.html.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2000). The UNHCR global report 1999. New York: Oxford University Press.

United States Department of Human Service (n. d.). Fiscal Year 2011 Refugee Arrivals: Refugeer Arrivals for FY 2011 by State and Country of Origin. Retrieved on July 29, 2012, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/data/fy2011RA.htm

van Manen (1991). The Tact of Teaching: The Meaning of Pedagogical Thoughtfulness. London, ON: Althouse Press.

Wan, G. (2001). The learning experience of Chinese students in American universities: A cross-cultural perspective. College Student Journa, 35, 1, 28.

Westernmyer, J., & Wahmanholm, K. (1996). Currents of reform in preservice teacher education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Winning, A. (1991). The Language of Home and the Home of Language: Pedagogical Considerations for ESL Practice. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Zhou, M., & C. L. Bankston (1998). Growing up American: How Vietnamese children adapt to life in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Zong, Jie, & Batalova, Jeanne (2015, February). Frequently requested statistics on immigrants and immigration in the United States. Migration Policy Institute Report at http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states, retrieved August 6, 2015.