In middle school, adolescents are particularly focused on peer interaction to help form their identities. For marginalized students, especially refugees, peer interaction, peer interaction is especially important. To be successful in schools and gain cultural and social capital, refugee students must learn and internalize the specific norms of their classrooms. In multicultural settings, students have ample opportunities for intercultural interactions, which can help refugee students navigate their new settings and become more successful. One of the largest refugee groups entering the United States recently is from Burma. Refugee students face a daunting set of challenges, from language and cultural differences to living in poverty, in becoming successful in their new homes. Unfortunately, there has been little research on the experiences of Burmese refugee students in classrooms in the United States.

A qualitative, transcendental phenomenological approach was used to study how three female Burmese refugee students experienced multicultural middle school classrooms in the United States, especially their intercultural interactions and identity formation, through interviews, observations, and stimulated recall.

The participants reported wanting to understand what they were learning, stay on task, and be kind to other students. Those traits developed from their experiences in their countries of origin and combined to create a picture of what a good student should be. In observations, students acted out their ideas of what it meant to be a good student. Their intercultural interactions in class reaffirmed their identities as good students.

Implications based on the findings include setting up intentional intercultural interactions with a diverse group of students in classrooms with multicultural approaches and that researchers examine the experiences of various groups of marginalized students while accounting for the context in which they learn and acknowledging a multifaceted view of adolescent identity development.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.