The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type




Degree Name

English: Teaching English as a Second Language: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

John Madden

Second Advisor

James Robinson

Third Advisor

Michael Schwartz

Fourth Advisor

Chris Lehman

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

academic, achievement, challenges, integration, retention, economic integration


As Somali refugees arrive in the United States, their unique culture and religion has become a challenge for academic institutions unaware of how to accommodate these new students with unique academic needs and social status. This study aims to identify the factors influencing the academic success of Somali graduate students and explore ways the Somali graduate students overcome the academic challenges. This phenomenological study analyzed the experiences and perceptions of ten Somali graduate students in the Midwest universities. Participants were either foreign born or second-generation born Americans. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews aimed at identifying challenges in the academic environment, and the ways the participants overcame their unique academic challenges. This study revealed that the primary factors affecting their academic success are in the presence of/or absence of inclusions academic environments, socioeconomic status, level of family obligation, levels of resilience, and encountering racism. These students overcame academic challenges by taking un-Islamic financial assistance, prioritizing English language learning, relying on family/spousal support, making connections with faculty, and forming ethnically homogenous academic support groups. Somali students have a plethora of academic factors affecting their success, most of which are common to more minority students in America. The ways these students deal with those academic challenges are unique to first-generation Somalis, especially concerning the paramount cultural and religious values around the importance of education which was the main source of academic motivation. Future research for Somali graduate students should be focused on what separates them from others in their same ethnic group who do not go to college.

Keywords: academic, achievement, challenges, integration, retention, economic integration


I would like to express the deepest appreciation to my committee chairs, professor John Madden and Professor James Robinson for their guidance, encouragement, and dedication to me during the thesis process. I am indebted to my committee members, professor Michael W. Schwartz, and professor Chris Lehman, who were always willing to go the extra mile for me and provide me with steadfast support and constant encouragement. I am grateful for having the most outstanding committee of all time. To my committee, thank you for your patience and support in guiding me through this process.

This acknowledgment is not complete without a thankful note to my family members and friends who supported me along the way. I want to express my deepest gratitude to my wife who always gave me her honest feedback. I am deeply grateful for her guidance and support. To my mom who always encouraged me to explore, learn, and grow more each day. I thank her for believing in me along the journey. She was my encouragement and biggest cheerleader.

I offer a special thank you to those graduate students who shared their experiences and time with me. The completion of this research would have been impossible without their input. And I thank them from the very bottom of my heart. I appreciate them taking the time to respond to the interviews and helping make my study possible.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.