Honours international relations student Minaho Ae is examining the educational experiences of Central American refugees in Toronto for her honours research. This will contribute to a better understanding of how to respond to problems with access to education. Ae received a Mount Allison Independent Student Research Grant to carry out her data collection this summer in Toronto.
“This research encompasses nearly everything I have learned at Mount Allison both inside and outside the classroom and this was the reason I decided to do it,” says Ae.
Ae, who is an international student from Osaka, Japan, wanted to expand her understanding of different countries and so, after taking Spanish for six months, she went to Honduras with Mount Allison’s Global Brigades. Global Brigades is a student-led global health and sustainable development organization that works to improve the quality of life in under-resourced communities. It is run by numerous volunteers, both professionals and students.
“I really enjoyed my time there. I was able to speak Spanish with the local people and make a connection,” she says. “I had never been to a developing country, so visiting Honduras was a turning point in my life. It was real experiential learning. I met people and saw how they are misrepresented in a dehumanizing way by media stories about border issues and immigration. It made me want to know the true story. So, I started focusing on these issues in term papers.”
As part of her IR degree, Ae takes courses in areas outside IR and one of these was sociology. She credits sociology with helping her understand herself and contributing important knowledge to her IR degree.
“We often talk about migration issues, or refugee issues, and how education is still a Western-centric idea,” she says.
Over the course of the summer, Ae conducted interviews with people who were working for Latino community organizations in Toronto.
“I was focusing on education and how education can impact their life in Canada,” she says. “In my interviews people often talk about obstacles like distance, or tuition, or other school issues, as Latino students often face lower academic expectations from teachers and society.”
Back at Mount Allison, as part of this research, Ae is reviewing the academic literature on how migrants from other countries face similar or different issues. She is also analyzing her interviews.
Ae’s advisor for her project is sociology professor Dr. Morgan Poteet whose research focuses on the overall experience of Central American refugees and specifically the second generation—the children of refugees and immigrants from Central America.
“Minaho brings a unique perspective to the wider issues facing Central American origin communities in Toronto, and her specific focus on issues of education promises to make a significant contribution to research in this area,” says Poteet.
Ae is also working as a research assistant for Poteet on a project concerning digital storytelling, where refugees tell their stories online.
“People don’t always feel comfortable in a one-on-one interview, but digital storytelling provides a platform for participants to reclaim aspects of their life histories that have been silenced, leading to new insights into wider social issues,” says Poteet.