Multilingual Practices and Identities of Syrian University Students in Turkey

Melissa B. Hauber-Özer | George Mason University, USA

Drawn from a critical ethnographic dissertation study, this presentation examines the multilingual practices and identities developed by a group of 11 Syrian young adults during forced displacement in Turkey. The larger study documents participants’ experiences overcoming linguistic, economic, and structural obstacles to higher education in pursuit of their personal and career goals. It engages a critical theory lens (Freire, 1972), sociocultural perspectives on language learning (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), and Norton’s (2013) investment framework to turn the spotlight from barriers to the personal strengths and strategies refugee students employ. Multilingual data in Turkish, Arabic, and English were collected virtually in the spring and summer of 2020 through a questionnaire, in-depth, semi-structured interviews, and photovoice workshops (Wang & Burris, 1997) and then analyzed collaboratively with a Syrian key informant using meaning field analysis (Carspecken, 1996), open emic coding, and narrative portraiture (Smyth & McInerney, 2013).

This presentation focuses on how participants engage in multilingual practices to overcome academic and social barriers, participate in the host society, resist marginalization, and construct a sense of local or transnational belonging and future identity (Canagarajah & Silberstein, 2012; Marlowe, 2018; Norton & Toohey, 2011; Stevenson, 2019). Interview excerpts and photovoice products illustrate participants’ resourcefulness and dexterity in navigating challenges, developing multilingual identities, and engaging with broader debates about migration, language learning, and integration. These findings exemplify the “highly complex and socially situated process” of second language learning (Swain & Deters, 2007, p. 827) through young migrants’ processes of gaining cultural capital and engaging in self-advocacy (Bourdieu, 1977, 2004; Darvin & Norton, 2015). The presentation closes with implications for scholarship and practice in this area amidst an ongoing refugee crisis and xenophobic policy and rhetoric in migration contexts across Europe and North America. 


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