Refugee Youth Voices: Coming to the USA & Thriving

By: Geeti, recent college graduate with Political Science/Cons. Pre-law & Criminology degree

This is the fifth post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.

Highlights:

  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series in partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • Students from R_PEACE are sharing their experiences from having a refugee background and now being in the United States.
  • Geeti talks about her life in the USA after being relocated in Kyrgyzstan from her homeland of Afghanistan.
Source: Jennifer Mann

My name is Geeti, and I’m originally from Afghanistan. My family and I left our home country in 2007 when I was 8 years old. We temporarily relocated to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before moving to the USA in 2014. The motivation behind sharing my experience is to shed light on the fact that people like me do not come to the USA solely for a better life; it is primarily for our safety, as our lives were in great danger. I hope to reach a diverse audience because I want to be a voice for others facing similar challenges.

Coming to the USA & Thriving

Transitioning to the USA was not as challenging as our move to Kyrgyzstan from Afghanistan. We quickly made friends, and their support helped us stand on our feet. While learning a new language and culture presented its own set of challenges, our prior experience in Kyrgyzstan made this transition feel less complicated.

We started to believe that we could rebuild our lives, and this time, we could witness the fruits of our labor. However, it came at a cost. All these challenges took away my parents’ youth, and they sacrificed everything for their children. Their unconditional support and determination inspires me to strive for excellence in everything I do.

My journey through Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the USA has profoundly influenced my career choices. I’ve recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Political Science, concentrating in pre-law and in criminology. These academic pursuits aren’t just decisions; they’re the direct outcome of the experiences and challenges I’ve faced along my journey. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still much ahead as I aim to help others in similar situations.

My Advice

To those facing similar challenges, I want to say this: never underestimate your inner strength and the potential for growth that hardships bring. If I can overcome these obstacles and pursue my dreams, so can you.

Now, I’d like to address the audience that may be reading this, whether you are an educator, parent or other adult. If you’re wondering how you can be more involved and help people like me, the answer is:

  • Empathy
  • Understanding
  • Support

It starts with acknowledging that everyone has a unique journey and story. By listening and learning about the experiences of refugees and immigrants, you can foster a more inclusive and compassionate society.

The Future

In conclusion, my journey from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan and finally to the United States has been marked by challenges, sacrifices, and resilience. I’m immensely grateful for the opportunities and obstacles that have shaped me into the person I am today. While I have a long way to go, my goal is to be a voice for those who have faced similar struggles and to contribute positively to society.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I’m excited about the chapters that lie ahead!


Stay tuned to this Refugee Youth Voices blog series to read more from Geeti on her experiences in educational systems from country to country!

Please note that pseudonyms are being used to protect the student writers and their family’s safety as part of this Refugee Youth Voices blog series.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Geeti is part of a group of college students from refugee-backgrounds that formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). R_PEACE creates content by using a critical literacy perspective, telling their counter-stories regarding access and entry into college, and disseminating information. The goal is to increase access to college for other refugees via three avenues: live speaking events in non-profit

Adolescence Can Help Unlock Autism Diagnosis in Girls

By: Erica Rouch

Highlights:

  • The strengths and challenges faced by autistic girls don’t always mirror those of boys, even though 4 boys are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for every girl.
  • Recent data about girls with autism spectrum disorder suggests that these diagnoses are often made in early adolescence because symptoms present differently than in boys.
  • An autism diagnosis, even one that comes as late as adolescence, comes with a variety of services, interventions, supports and resources.
Source: EHD

This post uses both the terms “autistic” and “person with ASD” to recognize that people have varied preferences in terminology.

Four boys are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for every girl. Because ASD is observed much more frequently in boys, specialists have a clearer picture of what autistic traits look like in boys and how to determine if a diagnosis is appropriate. Experts now know that the strengths and challenges faced by autistic girls don’t always mirror those of boys.

ASD is diagnosed by evaluating behavior, and as its name suggests, it is also a spectrum. The gender difference in how these behaviors present has contributed to a number of challenges in diagnosing girls.

Girls with ASD Present Differently

In the last decade or so, there has been a rise in autism diagnoses for girls who have strong intelligence and few behavior challenges. These girls still present with social interaction difficulties, which is a core characteristic of autism.

Recent data about girls with ASD, although limited, suggests that these diagnoses are often being made in early adolescence. This may be because adolescent girls present with less pronounced autistic characteristics in early childhood and they may be able to ‘mask’ autism-related differences in middle childhood. It seems that autistic girls are more likely to find strategies to compensate for some of the core challenges with social communication that we see in boys. This could look like:

  • Girls might teach themselves to look at someone between the eyes to mimic eye contact, even if it is uncomfortable for them. This has been referred to as “camouflaging” – the idea that girls are able to look around, see what their peers are doing, and mimic that to some extent – but it may not be totally natural for them.
  • In group social situations, autistic girls might look to their peers to see their reaction to a given situation, and mimic that verbal response, facial expression, and/or body language.
  • In order to “fit in,” a girl with ASD might engage in self-soothing “stimming” behaviors only when she is not around peers or not in public.

Adolescence brings higher demands for social interactions, particularly in group social situations, and it becomes more challenging for autistic girls to use these work-around strategies to be socially successful. Where girls have increasing challenges in these situations, it can help clarify an autism diagnosis.

Diagnosing at Adolescence

Since this is an emerging field, much of the research about girls and women with ASD is based on self-report of experience. For example, adolescent girls with ASD often report having a single friend at a time. When conflicts with a friend or peer arise, they are more likely to blame themselves entirely or blame the friend entirely, which often results in the end of the friendship.

Considering how much the potential for peer conflict goes up during the teen years, and especially the nuanced relational aggression that we see in teen girls, it makes sense that social relationships become markedly more challenging for autistic girls. These problems might be first noticed and diagnosed as anxiety or depression that has developed as a result of social challenges. Researchers do know that autistic girls are more likely than autistic boys to have co-occurring anxiety or depression.

ASD Resources

The good news is that with an autism diagnosis, even one that comes during adolescence, comes with better access to a variety of services (though there is certainly room for improvement!). Many girls and women also report feeling like a diagnosis is validating and helps them better understand themselves. Here are some resources and supports that may be helpful:

  • The Autism DRIVE provides a searchable database of autism-related resources and services in the state of Virginia, as well as the opportunity to participate in relevant research at UVA. This drive was developed by UVA’s STAR (​​Supporting Transformative Autism Research) initiative, which aims to improve the lives of individuals with autism through groundbreaking research and innovative models for intervention and training.
  • The PEERS Program (UCLA) and the Girls Night Out program (Kansas) are two social skills programs that have shown good evidence in supporting autistic girls and women in reaching their goals in social relationship development.
  • The Autism Empowerment website includes archived radio talks by autistic women, resources dedicated to females with ASD, and links to online support groups for autistic women.

You can also read more about recent research testing an all-girls intervention aimed at improving the social skills of middle and high school girls with autism. Additionally here are some readings which may be helpful:

This blog is consolidated from an EHD article written by Audrey Breen.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Erica Rouch began her professional career as a school psychologist in Virginia and North Carolina public schools, providing assessment and intervention services for students and families. Following her doctoral training, she completed a clinical psychology internship at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta and a postdoctoral fellowship with UVA’s Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) Initiative. As a licensed clinical psychologist, her expertise is in interdisciplinary autism assessment, parent training, and interventions for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. At UVA, the focus of her work is clinical training and teaching in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities, and she is the Training Director for UVA’s Blue Ridge Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program. Other specific interests include increasing access to autism services for underserved populations, gender differences in ASD, and improving assessment and intervention services for females with autism.

Research in Brief: Addressing Anger & Aggression in Middle Schools

By: Darien Waters

Highlights:

  • This Research in Brief blog is part of the School Mental Health series highlighting work and resources for mental health professionals.
  • This brief originated from the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) project, which partners with VA school divisions and institutions of higher education to expand support for school mental health services.
  • This brief summarizes a research article exploring mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) as an evidence-based practice to help adolescents develop positive coping skills, specifically as it relates to managing anger and aggressive behavior.
Source: Canva

This article explores mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy (MCBT) as an evidence-based practice to help adolescents develop positive coping skills, specifically as it relates to managing anger and aggressive behavior. Both mindfulness and cognitive- behavioral therapy (CBT) aim to proactively influence areas of the brain responsible for impulse control, decision-making, and planning. While CBT is focused on restructuring thoughts, MCBT emphasizes identifying negative thought patterns and addressing their underlying processes. The end goal of MCBT is to decrease impulsive and reactive behaviors.

Importance

  • Middle school youth are entering a key stage of brain development, therefore it is a critical time for students to learn and use emotion regulation skills.
  • Students who have difficulty regulating their emotions can experience negative outcomes both inside and outside of school.
  • School mental health professionals play a major role in helping students develop the necessary coping skills to prepare them for future success.
  • MCBT is a long-term technique, therefore, it may not be appropriate for students who would be better suited to a short-term approach.

Equity Considerations

  • Both mindfulness and CBT have extensive research documenting benefits to individuals’ mental and emotional health.
  • School mental health professionals must take care to consider the cultural responsiveness of MCBT before incorporating it into counseling sessions with a particular student.

Practitioner Tips

  • Consider using the Firework model as a method of explaining the connection between a stimulating event and the potential outcomes in the absence of proper regulation.
  • School mental health professionals should emphasize the mind / body connection as a key component of managing aggressive feelings and behaviors.
  • After introducing the concept of MCBT, school mental health professionals should identify facets of the practice that best fit the student and reinforce those concepts in future sessions.

Reference

Clark, L.B. (2020). Utilizing mindfulness- based CBT to address anger and aggression in middle schools. Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, 6(2), 97-109. https://doi.org/10.1080/23727810.2020.17 19351


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Darien Waters is a graduate student in the Counselor Education program at the University of Virginia, pursuing the School Mental Health emphasis offered to trainees through the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. Trainees in this emphasis complete additional coursework and field experience requirements that prepare them to take on leadership roles in addressing the mental health needs of students in K-12 schools.

Schools Should Support Holistic Adolescent Development & Here’s How

By: Allison Rae Ward-Seidel & Sophie Yitong Yue

Highlights:

  • Adolescent development is complex and multifaceted, including mental and physical health, cognition, identity, meaning and purpose, emotional, and social domains of development, which are all interrelated.
  • Helping educators support multiple developmental domains may support adolescents’ cognitive development and foster academic success in school.
  • Schools can play a role in holistic adolescent development, and highlighted here are tips and strategies for educators to promote holistic development.
Source: Canva & Youth-Nex’s Portrait of a Thriving Youth

Adolescents spend a substantial amount of their daily time in school. The goal of schools has rightfully been to promote academic skills, such as reading, writing, math, science and history. Since the era of standardized testing, education has been focused on academic achievement, often at the expense of students’ health and wellbeing. However, incorporating students’ health and wellbeing can support academic success.

If we want youth to thrive, we need a holistic approach that not only emphasizes their performance but encourages mental and social development. The Portrait of a Thriving Youth describes domains of adolescent development in a comprehensive way. We highlight those domains and describe specifically how schools and educators can promote positive, holistic experiences for youth that can support academic success.

Physical & Mental Health

Physical and mental health in adolescence includes how young peoples’ brains, bodies, and hormones are changing during puberty. Often physical changes and mental maturity are happening at different rates, which can be confusing for a young person, and the adults who care about them.

To support physical & mental health, schools and educators can:

Cognitive Development

Cognition in adolescence includes the changes happening in the brain that allow students to think more critically and abstractly. This development is important for advanced academic skills, such as in calculus or debate.

To promote cognitive development, schools and educators can:

Identity Development

Identity development in adolescence revolves around important questions like “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in?”. It is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to ‘try on’ different identities by selecting different clothing styles, appearances, interests, friend groups, or activities.

To promote identity development, educators can:

  • Help youth develop an integrated identity, or a cohesive sense of self, can be motivating for engagement in extracurricular activities and academic achievement.
  • Foster young people’s identity development in both academic and social settings to create a safe and supportive environment.

Meaning & Purpose

Youth are developmentally programmed to reflect on complex questions about their lives and social contexts. An important part of adolescence is actively trying to make sense of the world around you. Adolescents are more attuned to risks and rewards, fairness and justice, and are sensitive to hypocrisy.

To promote meaning & purpose, schools and educators can:

Emotional Development

Emotional development includes identifying and managing emotions in positive and meaningful ways. During adolescence, young people are experiencing more extreme highs and lows, as the part of their brain that initiates and processes emotions is developing rapidly.

Educators can help adolescents:

Social Development

Social development is particularly salient in adolescence as youth spend more time, and place more importance with their peers when exploring independence, identity, and where they fit in the world. Youth model relationship-building and conflict resolution skills after the adults in their lives.

Educators can promote social development through:

  • Active learning strategies that increase engagement, like cooperative group work (e.g., jigsaw assignments can increase empathy), inquiry-based learning, or project-based learning.
  • Building positive student-teacher relationships and student-peer relationships.
  • Implementing restorative practices (e.g., community building circles which can include academic content), and promoting student-teacher relationships among students.  

Supporting healthy young people means supporting all the multifaceted and complex parts of adolescent development. Because these domains are all connected, supporting additional areas of development will contribute to students’ cognitive development and academic success. Balancing these domains can seem overwhelming for one educator; instead, consider building partnerships with community organizations, afterschool programs, and outside groups, to map what resources are available to support different developmental needs.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Allison Rae Ward-Seidel is a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia studying sociopolitical development and school conditions that promote a commitment to social justice among adolescents. Allison taught public school for 6 years before transitioning to education research in psychology and human development. She earned a Masters from Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked as a research project director evaluating a Restorative Practices and Racial Equity initiative in schools. She hopes to continue in education by supporting preservice teachers and advancing scholarship in sociopolitical development.

Author Bio: Sophie Yitong Yue is a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia studying ecological theory and its implications for behavioral health outcomes. She is also interested in using advanced quantitative methods to analyze national longitudinal data. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and hopes to continue her academic journey in promoting human- and equity-centered approaches in research and all fields.

Research in Brief: Pathways to Positive School Climates

By: Erica Wood

Highlights:

  • This Research in Brief blog is part of the School Mental Health series highlighting work and resources for mental health professionals.
  • This brief originated from the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health (VPSMH) project, which partners with VA school divisions and institutions of higher education to expand support for school mental health services.
  • This brief summarizes a research article about restorative practices and the integration of social emotional learning as a path to positive school climates.
Source: Canva

This article highlights benefits of integrating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices with Restorative Practices (RP) and promoting educator buy-in, ultimately shifting school climates towards relationship building and away from punitive punishments. This synthesis of research offers alternative practices to racially discriminatory zero tolerance policies that promote RP through rebuilding relationships, repairing relationships, and affirming relationships through developing SEL skills. The article emphasizes the success of RP and looking towards the future by integrating RP and SEL development to create a more inclusive and sustainable restorative school culture.

Importance

  • Mental health professionals play an integral role in developing and fostering a comprehensive school climate while training teachers and other personnel on how to promote and educate students on SEL.
  • Understanding the positive correlation between RP and positive behavior outcomes perpetuates the work of reducing punitive punishment and discipline that is inherently racist.
  • Promoting the integration of SEL and RP provides students and faculty with the opportunity to build healthy relationships and foster SEL skills that can be used during conflict processing.
  • Using RP in schools and fostering teacher buy-in reduces discipline and overall creates a more equitable school environment for students.

Equity Considerations

It is important to recognize that the educational system is inherently racist and that current systemic discipline practices disproportionately punish black and brown students more than their white peers. When considering implementing RP, it is also important to consider other student identities such as students who identify as LGBTQ+, students with disabilities, and students with previous trauma. Implementing RP and SEL should be done with a holistic approach and should be student centered around building and fostering relationships.

Practitioner Tips

  • Those who are successful in implementing RP are student and human focused, trusting of colleagues and students, willing to recognize mistakes, and creative.
  • It is imperative to invest time and money into training educators in RP to promote buy-in and allow space and time for administrators to integrate RP into existing school structures…patience and persistence.
  • Relationship building is essential to school climate, student success, and teacher retention. Stronger relationships allow for hard and restorative conversations.
  • SEL and RP are rooted in PBIS and focus on tiered interventions and naturally incorporates trauma-informed care.
  • RP has been proven to reduce racial inequities in discipline.

Reference

Hulvershorn, K. & Mulholland, S. (2018). Restorative practices and the integration of social emotional learning as a path to positive school climates. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 11(1), 110-123. DOI 10.1108/JRIT-08-2017-0015


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Erica Wood is a graduate student in the Counselor Education program at the University of Virginia, pursuing the School Mental Health emphasis offered to trainees through the Virginia Partnership for School Mental Health. Trainees in this emphasis complete additional coursework and field experience requirements that prepare them to take on leadership roles in addressing the mental health needs of students in K-12 schools.

Refugee Youth Voices: Educator Strategies for Understanding Language & Past Experiences

By: Mandy Flores-Curley

This is the fourth post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.

Highlights:

  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series, a partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition, where young people with immigrant backgrounds are sharing their experiences.
  • As a former teacher and current graduate student, I am adding to this series by sharing some tips that educators can use to understand the past experiences of their students and language differences.
  • In this blog, I share strategies for nurturing learning for students with refugee backgrounds, and addressing trauma with sensitivity and support.
Source: Canva

The diversity of the student population in schools today includes children who are refugees, many of whom have experienced trauma that can affect their learning and behavior in profound ways. As educators, it is crucial to develop an understanding for these experiences, adjusting our teaching practices to create a supportive environment.

Here, I want to focus on strategies for helping students who have been traumatized, and like Sue Mar, disturbed by fireworks on the Fourth of July due to their association with past experiences. Here are some approaches tailored for elementary, middle, and high school settings to facilitate a nurturing and effective learning environment for all students.

Elementary School Strategies

  • Safe Spaces: Establish a “safe space” in your classroom where students can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. This area should be equipped with calming activities and materials (e.g., books, art supplies). It’s a quiet corner where students can take a moment to regulate their emotions.
  • Routine & Predictability: Many refugee children find comfort in predictability. Maintain a consistent daily routine and give plenty of opportunities to learn about transitions and any upcoming events that might be out of the ordinary, including celebrations like the Fourth of July.
  • Storytelling & Books: Use stories and books that are sensitive to the experiences of refugees without being triggered. Literature that focuses on themes of hope, resilience, and diverse experiences can be particularly powerful. This approach builds empathy among all students and helps those with trauma feel seen and understood.

Middle School Strategies

  • Peer Support: Foster a buddy system pairing refugee students with empathetic peers who can help them navigate school life. This system promotes a sense of belonging and support. Training for these peer buddies on basic understanding of trauma can enhance the effectiveness of this strategy. Note: Be particularly careful that the student is helpful and trustworthy.
  • Expressive Arts: Encourage participation in art, music, and drama, which can be therapeutic and offer a form of expression beyond words. For instance, participating in a music class can be a soothing alternative for a student troubled by the noise of fireworks, offering a positive association with sound.
  • Inclusive Celebrations: Be mindful of cultural sensitivities when planning school events and celebrations. Offer alternative activities during events that include fireworks or other potentially triggering experiences. Educate the entire school community about the reasons for these adjustments to foster a culture of understanding and respect.

High School Strategies

  • Student-led Initiatives: Empower students to take the lead in creating inclusive projects or clubs that address the needs of refugee students. For example, a student group could organize a quiet, welcoming event as an alternative to the traditional Fourth of July celebrations. Note: This has to be done carefully, without giving too much information that the student may not want to share.
  • Counseling & Support Services: Ensure that refugee students have access to counseling services that are sensitive to their experiences. School counselors should be trained in trauma-informed approaches to effectively support these students.
  • Educational Adaptations: Recognize and accommodate the diverse educational backgrounds of refugee students. This might include differentiated instruction, targeted English language support, and flexibility in assignments and testing to account for varied levels of formal education prior to arrival.

Teaching students who are refugees and have experienced trauma requires a thoughtful and informed approach. By implementing strategies tailored to the unique needs of all students at different educational levels, educators can create an environment that not only supports their academic growth but also their emotional healing and well-being. I believe we should strive to empower these students, helping them feel safe, included, and capable of achieving their full potential in their new community.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Mandy Flores-Curley, an educator with 14 years of teaching experience, is now a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia. Her research encompasses English as a Second Language (ESL) and Dual Language Education, student performance, teacher development, and leveraging artificial intelligence to enhance teaching methods. She has a strong commitment to advancing education and she is on a mission to shape the future of learning and teaching.

Refugee Youth Voices: Understanding Language & Past Experiences

By: Sue Mar

This is the third post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.

Highlights:

  • This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series in partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
  • Students from R_PEACE are sharing their experiences from having a refugee background and now being in the United States.
  • Sue Mar talks about elements of her language and culture growing up, and how she started to understand past experiences once moving to the USA.
Source: Jennifer Mann

My name is Sue Mar and I grew up in Burma, a country in Southeast Asia. I arrived in the United States when I was 14 years old. I want to share more about my original language and culture growing up.

Language & Culture

Karenni has been a spoken language for generations in my homeland, although it has only been officially written for 40 years. The Karenni people’s cultural and historical traditions were solely passed down from father to son, therefore, they missed out on a lot of history since it was never written.

My grandparents, for example, spoke Karenni but never wrote it down. It was only passed down to my mom as a spoken tongue. My mother only taught me how to communicate in languages, and I never learned how to write them when I was younger.

To me, this creates a language gap because people cannot:

  • Learn about their own culture,
  • Document their history, and
  • Learn from their mistakes so that they do not repeat them.

Even certificates of birth or death are uncommon, unless you are raised in certain religions.

Understanding Past Experiences

Because Karenni is a language that has not been written for very long, it is hard to document our long history, or prove that other people did not see or go through certain paths. But the struggles and trauma are real. I have seen with my own eyes some of the suffering the Karenni people faced at the hands of the Burmese military.

When my family and I arrived in refugee camps, we all went through different struggles because of our ages. I had never heard of the term “traumatize” until I attended a community college event, but I now understand what that means. I understand why I react in certain situations in the manner I do and it is because I have been traumatized.

For example, during the Fourth of July, many Americans will be celebrating with their families. For me, the sounds of fireworks trigger memories of conflict from my homeland. It reminds me and my family of gunshots. I wanted to run and hide the first year we arrived in the United States because we did not know about the July 4th traditions or understand how they would affect our past experiences.

More and better education may be important in these cases, and I will share more about my experiences in 3 countries’ educational systems in my next post!


Stay tuned to this Refugee Youth Voices blog series to read more from Sue Mar on her experiences in educational systems from country to country!

Please note that pseudonyms are being used to protect the student writers and their family’s safety as part of this Refugee Youth Voices blog series.


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Sue Mar is part of a group of college students from refugee-backgrounds that formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). R_PEACE creates content by using a critical literacy perspective, telling their counter-stories regarding access and entry into college, and disseminating information. The goal is to increase access to college for other refugees via three avenues: live speaking events in non-profit organizations serving refugees, a multilingual brochure, and through social media.