Leadership and Civic Engagement of Myanmar Refugee Students in the United States: Experiences, Influences and Aspirations


The refugee youth’s involvement in civic engagement and leadership means an access to other opportunities in life, such as social recognition, psychosocial well-being, rewarding relationships and connections, exposure to professional employment, and ability to advocate for oneself and for his/her community (Flanagan and Levine, 2010; Flanagan and Bundick, 2011). Likewise, student civic engagement brings significant social, economic, and civic benefits not only to refugee community, but also to the mainstream society as a whole (Jensen, 2008). By applying ethnographic lens, this study examines aspirations, influences and experiences of Myanmar refugee students who are currently active in their communities in the United States. Through disappointments and frustrations of community disunity, unchangeable egos of leaders and serious mistrust among ethnic groups, Myanmar students see the need for unity, collaboration, mutual respect and forgiveness. As such, their civic engagement aspirations and leadership activities are significantly shaped by their collective Myanmar identity and the sense of unity that they acquired through their lived experiences while they were in Myanmar and after resettled in the United States. Myanmar refugee students found a rallying point at reinforced national identity, and the need of unity within Myanmar community and among different refugee ethnic groups from Myanmar. Their narratives and reflections subtly show that unified identity as Myanmar student leaders and community unifiers—reinforced by their community attachments and social ties—is the major influence that empowers them to actively participate in the civic engagement activities in the United States.

Author Information
Ba Zan Lin, SUNY University at Buffalo, USA

Paper Information
Conference: ACE2016
Stream: Education: social and political movements

This paper is part of the ACE2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon