Learning English, working hard, and challenging risk discourses

Jill Koyama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Refugees in the US are often seen as risk-takers-those who engage in potentially harmful behaviors that simultaneously provide opportunity; with their perceived weaknesses in English language training, overall education, and US cultural capital, refugees are also frequently situated as being ''at-risk'' of not adapting to their new contexts. In this article, which draws on a two year ethnographic study in a Northeastern city, I trouble the simultaneous positioning of refugees as risk-takers and as being at risk. National policies governing the integration of refugees reduce social and educational adaptation to economic self-sufficiency, resulting in the emergence of three threads of risk: the risk of refugees being dependent on government resources, the risk of refugees ''taking'' jobs from Americans, and the risk of refugees threatening national security. Here, I focus on the first two threads, which represent a dichotomy of risk narratives, but which also poise refugees as risks to the mythical/idealized quality of American life and economic wellbeing. I document refugees participating in ESL and career-readiness classes offered by local resettlement agencies to reveal how educators in both ESL and career classes employ the narrative of positive risk-taking to challenge the more negative risk discourses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-620
Number of pages13
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • ESL
  • Ethnography
  • Refugees
  • Risk
  • Workforce training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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