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School Environment in the UK and its Role in Forming Identities

School life is a crucial part of the everyday life of young people. School represents a place where young people socialise with peers from different ethnic and national backgrounds and a place where they negotiate their participation in the receiving society and in defining themselves. The school environment in Britain is multicultural and multiracial, and migrants send their children to schools and universities in multiethnic neighbourhoods. The identifications are seen as an outcome of the relationship with peers from different ethnic backgrounds and youths might experience a sense of isolation from English youths. This isolation is related to ‘feeling other’ and racist rejection. The school environment emphasises differences because it receives children from different ethnic backgrounds and also creates segregation by including many children from the same ethnic background. Consequently, the school system fails in different contexts at both assimilation and integration.

Turkish and Kurdish youth seem to encounter some difficulties in interacting with different cultures. Even though most of them were born and raised in London, their home lives and communities may not equip them sufficiently to benefit from their cosmopolitan environment. Some stated that forming groups with similar ethnic backgrounds at secondary school was motivated by fear and discrimination which in turn creates further differentiation and discrimination. Majority of Turkish and Kurdish youth mentioned that the racist environment at school encourages these young people to stick to friends from their ethnic background. However, they highlighted the fact that forming groups with people from the same ethnic background is motivated by the feeling of understanding, security, and solidarity. In this sense, it has a positive meaning helping to improve their wellbeing and inclusion into the receiving society.

While some young people tend to socialise with people only from their own ethnic background, others are more open to socialising with people from different ethnic groups. Engaging with diversity is promoted when it is the norm of the school environment. By learning about other cultures, interacting with young people from different ethnic background allows students to have an idea about the diversity of the society in which they live. Therefore, it opens a space for negotiation of identity among these young people and exposes them to different cultural repertoires, i.e. the culture of the receiving and sending country.

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