Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Lives in Transition: Stories of Three Foreign Elementary Students from India

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Lives in Transition: Stories of Three Foreign Elementary Students from India

Article excerpt

This qualitative study tells the stories of three Asian Indian children dealing with the initial phases of adjustment and acculturation at a multicultural elementary school in USA. Constructed using data collected through classroom observations and in-depth interviews with children, parents, and school personnel, these stories reveal important linkages between families and schools, and their respective roles in foreign-born children's acculturation into the host culture. The pressures to maintain Indian identity, language, food habits, and traditions are all important aspects of these children's experiences. The school context shapes their educational experiences and adjustment. This study also touches upon some important policy issues for schools in relation to multicultural programs, ESL instruction, native language instruction, and support services for their increasingly diverse student and parent communities. One such issue pertains to the recognition of student's ethnic and cultural identity in a public school. Key words: Asian Indian, Foreign Students, Voluntary Minority, Immigrant Education, and Multiculturalism in Education


These are the stories of three children--children who moved from India to the U.S. at a young age. These are the voices of Veena (an 11 year-old girl, fifth grader), Rohit (Veena's 9-year-old brother, a third grader), and Ajay (a 5 year-old boy in kindergarten). These voices were heard when they attended Jackson Elementary School in a midwestern university town. They, like many other students in their school, were children of international students who were pursuing their higher education at the state university, and lived in the university student family housing complex. In these families, usually one of the parents, more generally the father, was going to the university for some graduate degree or post-doctoral work. At the time of the study, students in this highly multicultural and international school came from about 45 different countries, and about 35 different language backgrounds. As the principal of the school remarked:

   Our largest group by race is Asian, about 40 percent, but they come
   from a variety of countries.... We have about 23 to 25 percent
   African-Americans, about same proportion of White Americans, and
   then in small numbers we have Hispanics, and Native Americans. So
   it is really a mixed population, there really is not a majority.

This qualitative study, however, was not about the multicultural nature of Jackson Elementary School, or about the services that the school provided to children like Veena, Rohit, or Ajay. My initial aim was to study and understand the experiences of Asian-Indian children in an elementary school--how these children who come to the U.S. at a very young age with their parents--adjust to a new educational and cultural setting. The objective was to understand how these children make sense of their schooling experiences in the U.S. at the time when they and their families are also struggling to adjust and settle in a new country, how they live through this transition from one culture to another, from one way of life to another.

In the process of data collection, I soon realized that one important factor in the adjustment of most of the foreign-born children in Jackson Elementary School was the uniqueness of the school itself, and the services that the school provided for them. Thus, my initial focus on understanding the experiences of three Asian Indian children got fused with the overall context of the school these children attended. The school's "multicultural program," therefore became an important link in the story of these children's experiences. I am now convinced that my study would have taken a different shape in another school where the student population would be more homogeneous and "American." This aspect of the school context will be dealt in a separate section of the paper. …

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