Rohan’s story of his stepwise migration to Australia

Rohan’s story originally appeared on pages 1 to 3 of the book below:
Mu, G. M. (2022). Sociologising child and youth resilience with Bourdieu: An Australian perspective. Routledge.
Citation of the book is required if (part of) Rohan’s story is reused elsewhere.

Rohan was a Grade-Seven student with a Burmese background. He was one of my many inspirations when I looked for traces of resilience along my research journey. During the interview with Rohan, I found myself inadvertently drawn into his inner microcosmos. When he was candid about his refugee background, a twinge of sympathy fleeted into my heart. As my conversation with Rohan continued, I found that he took this interview as an exceptional opportunity to make himself heard and carry his experience over from the private to the open space. His willingness to share became an irresistible invitation for me to step deeper into his life stories. 

The journey of Rohan and his family to Australia was fraught with twists and turns. They made a stepwise migration through Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Their journey was full of distractions and attractions. During the interview, Rohan avowed to me:

Yeah we were kind of hungry. My mum would sometimes go and borrow some money from her friends or family and then we’d just eat some bread or something and stay for a while, until the next day maybe, until my dad got some money. He got scraps and then he sold them and then got money from that, so that’s how we fed ourselves.

Despite poverty and uncertainty, hunger and danger, as well as bereavement of beloved family members, Rohan considered the journey to be “fun”. He enjoyed all the novel experiences to which he was exposed. For him, it was like a blessing in disguise. For Rohan, movements across time and space did not seem to have significant negative consequences; instead, he understood his stepwise migration as an exposure to new experiences and an enrichment of himself in a positive term, demonstrating a cosmopolitan outlook.

At first, Rohan’s story urged me to ponder over his “unexpected” successful coping with the “unfortunate” experiences as a refugee child “at risk”. But later my inquiry has become less about how he has “unexpectedly” fared well despite his “at-risk” background but more about the root causes of the “unexpectedness”. Rohan’s story is inviting and inspirational as it proffers an opportunity to rethink the labelling of “at risk”. What strikes me and intrigues me is not Rohan’s psychological coping with his at-risk background but his subversion of the arbitrary labelling of “at risk”. Indeed, throughout the interview conversation, there was barely any evidence that Rohan considered himself at risk.

Does Rohan have to be labelled as an “at-risk” refugee child? Rohan de facto has a refugee background. Whether or not such background is indeed a risk in practice is a different problem. But my problem here is why did I predispose him as an easy prey to his refugee background? Where did this predisposition come from? When he voluntarily, calmly, and openly shared with me his refugee experiences, a piercing pain thrust into my heart. Whether or not I should feel painful is a different moral problem. But my problem here is where did my pain come from? Was it from my condescension shrouded by a form of hypocritical humanism? I invite comments and insights from readers to discuss layers of complexities behind Rohan’s story.