The Adult Immigrant Learner: Experiences of Occupational Downgrading in Light of Possible Selves Theory


This qualitative phenomenological study examined the occupational downgrading experiences of six adult immigrants. Occupational downgrading happens when an individual’s occupation post immigration does not match his or her education credentials and previous professional experiences. The goal was to make sense of the participants’ narratives through the lens of possible selves theory (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Therefore, the research questions guiding this study were: (1)What are the journeys of adult immigrants adapting to the demands of the U.S. workplace? (2)How do occupational downgrading experiences of immigrants shape their integration to the U.S. workforce? and (3)How can we make sense of the participants’ narratives through the lens of possible selves theory? Phenomenological interviews served as the main source for data collection. In addition, artifacts allowed the participants to enrich their stories. Lastly, historical timelines from the participants’ countries of origin provided context for their immigration narratives. Phenomenological analysis was helpful in making sense of the participants’ stories. Themes that emerged from the participants’ occupational downgrading experiences include underemployment as a result of devaluing foreign education credentials, shift in status, language barrier, feeling of discrimination, and lack of inspiration. Looking at past, present, and future selves, the participants’ narratives were examined first through identity transition processes: separation, transition, and reincorporation and then through identity forming processes:reclaiming, rejecting, constructing, and expanding possible selves. Study findings inform who is participating in adult education; they centralize the immigrant as participant to adult learning and development and provide new narratives of adults in transition.

Author Information
Jan Adversario, Austin Community College, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2018
Stream: Adult, Lifelong & Distance Learning

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon