Wednesday Seminar: “I am from Islam and K-pop”: Refugee-background students’ identities and language identities in becoming

Aleksandra Olszewska (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, MultiLing) will discuss the language identities of refugee-background students in Poland.

Please note this is a closed event for MultiLing members only.

Aleksandra Olszewska smiling and wearing a bright blue top

Aleksandra Olszewska (photo: Nadia Frantsen/UiO)


With the rise of anti-refugee narratives in Poland and worldwide, research on the complexity of refugee-background students’ (RBSs) identities and language identities remains an unexplored territory (Warriner & Bigelow, 2019). Also, RBSs tend to be portrayed in deficit ways, rather than seen for their strengths, agency, and multilingual repertoires (Shapiro et al., 2018). This study aimed to centralize and illuminate voices of four Chechen RBSs attending a public school in Poland, as well as to examine what their stories reveal about their identities and language identities. The conceptual framework of this qualitative study encompassed constructs of RBS identity (Shapiro et al., 2018; UNHCR, 1951), identity and language identity (Norton, 2000), and Refugee Critical Race Theory (RefugeeCrit) (Strekalova-Hughes et al., 2018). Drawing upon participatory, humanizing, and arts-based research approaches (Fine, 2017; Paris & Winn, 2014), including counter-storytelling (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002), data sources included fieldnotes, interviews, language self-portraits, handprints, and I Am From poems. Findings of this study demonstrated that RBSs’ identities and language identities are constructed through claiming, negotiating, and envisioning their identities while in a constant process of becoming (Norton, 2000), and are shaped by a dynamic interplay of majoritarian stories and counter-stories. The study has also shown that RBSs’ identities and language identities are multilayered, rich and in constant flux. Ultimately, work is necessary to oppose the essentialization of RBSs; to advocate for transformative policies and practices; and to pursue a more just world, wherein no human is considered illegal, and all individuals are respected and celebrated.


Aleksandra Olszewska obtained her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in ESOL and Bilingual Education from University of Florida, USA. She is a former Fulbright fellow. Currently Aleksandra works as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan (MultiLing) at the University of Oslo and is part of the NorPol project focused on Polish migrants in Norway. Her research interests include linguistic justice, language policies and practices, teacher education for bilingual and immigrant-background students, humanizing research methods, and socially just pedagogies.


Published Oct. 19, 2021 3:55 PM - Last modified Jan. 4, 2022 9:33 PM