World Switching

By: Jill Koyama  

In this paper, I explore how youth with refugee status forge new hybrid identities and spaces in U.S. educational contexts. I utilize the notion of “space-making” and “figured worlds” to demonstrate how the youth create and engage with online spaces in which they can simultaneously stream webcam video from a refugee camp or music from their homeland while also completing exercises in an online credit recovery program or a required high school course. Beyond “code-switching,” or the practice of alternating between two or more languages or ways of expressing oneself in a conversation, the youth engage in what I term “world-switching,” or the practice of alternating between two or more worlds on and offline, and in the U.S. and beyond. As they move between the worlds, they make and mediate emergent identities and the constructed and figured spaces of refugee learning. Drawing on forty-two months of ethnographic data on newcomer and refugee networks in Southwestern U.S., which includes a case study of one school district’s response to refugee students, I show how the youth exert and insert themselves to create new sociospatial forms, new combinations of online and offline contexts, to combat the monotony of perfunctory online lessons. I trace how they configure identities, inclusive of the multiple geographic, symbolic, political, and cultural worlds they have inhabited or currently physically inhabit. And, I argue that their actions not only challenge ineffective and marginalizing educational practices and policies, but also demonstrate a creative form of refugee integration—and learning by newcomers.

Refugees United States Ethnography
Education and Learning in a World of Difference
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Jill Koyama

Associate Professor/Director, Educational Policy Studies and Practice/Institute for LGBT Studies, University of Arizona, United States
United States