Methods: Twenty-eight in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with Syrian and Iraqi refugee youth who resettled to Chicago in the last several years. Interviews were conducted at local schools, lasted between 45 and 60 minutes, and a translator was available to facilitate the interview process. Verbatim transcripts of all interviews were generated, transcribed, and later coded using MAXQDA, a software program designed to support computer-assisted qualitative methods. In this study, inductive data analysis included descriptive and pattern coding to shed light on refugee youths’ general perceptions and participation in learning activities and OST programs.
Results: Analysis of the types of OST programs youth participated in within their respective schools revealed that refugee boys were typically involved in sports-based programs while girls engaged in arts-based programs; for boys and girls, these activities reinforced their feelings of nostalgia for their countries of origins. Second, refugee students typically participated in OST programs within their local communities—but outside of their schools. Favored OST activities included programs offering academic support and homework assistance, encouraging refugee youths’ engagement both civically and politically in their schools and communities, and promoting their cultural and ethnic identities. Finally, these findings delve into the perceptions of a handful of refugee youth that OST programs are a distraction from their academic pursuits.
Conclusion and Implications: A major resource for OST specialists and community stakeholders, this research provides an empirical opportunity to learn about refugees’ firsthand experiences in out-of-school time activities, their unique perceptions of the social context, and knowledge about what they need to feel supported within these settings. With increasing policy and program emphasis on access to and quality of OST programs, recognizing that the needs of refugee youth differ from the needs of U.S.-born ethnic and racial minority youth has become critical. Therefore, the experiences and general participation of refugee youth in OST programs are unique and must be treated as such, both within programs targeting refugee and migrant youth specifically and within those targeting the youth population in general.