Shukriya’s Story: Negotiating Cultural Dissonance While Learning to Be Literate

  • Barbara Nykiel-HerbertEmail author
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


This case study examines the interplay between literacy acquisition and negotiation of ethnic and gender identity by a refugee child in the context of the competing cultures of a traditional Kurdish home and an American public school. Shukriya, a 9-year-old non-literate Kurdish refugee from Iraq, is subject to two conflicting sets of cultural norms and assumptions, particularly with regard to gender and educational expectations. Within her family, she takes a back seat to her brothers; Shukriya’s sense of identity is tied to her role as a future homemaker. At the same time, the school defines her in terms of deficits: a non-literate, non-numerate, non-English speaker in need of “cultural remediation” to become American. Placed in an intervention program for low-performing Middle-Eastern refugee students, Shukriya discovers that literacy is the currency of social status. She begins to use her emergent writing skills for self-promotion and, gradually, affirmation of her membership in both cultures. She re-asserts her identity as a Kurdish female while she also crafts a new identity for herself as a successful student, challenging some of the expectations of her home culture. The article showcases Shukriya’s path to literacy and bicultural competence by interpreting a selection of her writing—produced over the period of one school year—against the backdrop of a body of ethnographic data as well as the broader paradigms of the two cultures in contact.


Refugees Cultural adaptation Literacy Identity Gender 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LingworksRenoUSA

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