Doctoral student explores her own identity through research abroad

A woman stands in the front of a classroom, teaching

By Rachel Berry

Serian Jeng, a fourth year Ph.D student in the Department of Educational Leadership, is researching in Norway to better understand how to educate and empower African immigrants.

Can you explain your research project?

My research is an autoethnographic exploration to better understand how first and second-generation African immigrants in Norway create transnational spaces where empowerment and civic engagement are practiced through community African history education.

My central focus is the first Pan-African youth organization in Norway, Afrikan Youth in Norway (AYIN). This organization was one of the first and few transnational social spaces where African youths were exposed to African history, music, stories, art, etc.

As a former member, I find myself drifting daily into nostalgia about the days of AYIN, but also feeling grateful for the space it created for us as youth of color and how it helped with our identity formation.

My data collection consists of stories from other former members, evoking epiphanies through the collective storytelling of those who grew up within this youth organization.

Through my discoveries, I will examine the lack of African history education in the Norwegian school curriculum and how damaging this exclusion is for people of color in Norway. By understanding the experiences of this population, I hope to uncover the importance and urgency of accessible African history education for people of color in Norway.

Why did you choose this project? What made you choose Norway?

I have spent most of my adolescence and adult life working with the youth population, mostly immigrant youths in Norway. Being Norwegian of African descent myself, this exploration is very close to my heart. By growing up in Norway, I have gained invaluable experience, knowing first-hand how the educational system works, both by attending school and by working within traditional Norwegian schools, and with several after-school educational spaces.

I chose this project and Norway simply because I realized how important my story is and the stories of people like me. We grew up within a school system that cared very little about including us in the national curriculum, but rather encouraged students to assimilate to become “more Norwegian.”

I would like to encourage a more inclusionary curriculum where students who have ancestry from different parts of the world see themselves in their books, stories, history education, and all other aspects of school.

Why do you think it’s important to engage globally and to combine your research with an international perspective?

People who have been othered or have grown up marginalized exist in every country and culture. As a child of immigrants, I know personally the strength required to grow up in a society where I am very seldomly represented. By sharing our stories as scholars of color, we are encouraging other young minds to explore social issues that concern them and make change through breaking ceilings and challenging the status quo.

It is important to understand that for most of us who have grown up in different countries, and have multiple identities, that we are global beings, and so everything we do carries a transnational perspective. I could never speak about myself without honoring my parents, and the place in which I was born. That alone is international.

Interested in research abroad?

Apply for the Fulbright Program