Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology

Major Professor

Mitsunori Misawa

Committee Members

Ralph Brockett, Mary Catherine Hammon, Terry Ishitani


Each year, refugees come to the U.S. in search of a safe place to rebuild their lives after surviving life-threatening violence, persecution, or environmental dangers. As refugees seek to establish a safe and stable life for their families, education becomes a central focus. However, we do not know what the experience is like for adult refugees who seek education in the U.S. Since education can open pathways to a stable and self-sufficient life for adult refugees, it appears incumbent that the U.S. education system facilitate access and success for this vital student population. The purpose of this narrative inquiry was to seek a better understanding of the experiences of adult refugee learners as they navigate higher education in the Southeastern U.S. The research questions that guided this study were: 1) How do prior life experiences of adult refugee learners influence the transition to higher education in the U.S.? 2) How does the intersection of ethnicity and immigration status of adult refugee learners influence the U.S. higher education experience? and 3) What strategies do adult refugee learners employ to navigate higher education? This narrative inquiry focused on the experiences of nine adult refugee students in a community college in the Southeastern U.S. From the narrative interview data, four themes emerged: a) seek to understand and be understood, b) bird in a cage, c) power of education, and d) there is only hope. Each theme was addressed in detail through narrative excerpts from the participant interviews. This study concluded with a discussion of implications for practice and research and recommendations for future research in the field of adult education.

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