The Power of Narrative: Students Daring to Dream in Lao PDR
Kara Burnett, Ed.D.

University of San Francisco
San Francisco, California

Research Issue:
Young adults in Laos, as they complete school and attempt to enter the workforce, experience the traditional challenges of this transition accompanied by challenges by living in an economically developing nation. This research identifies the places selected Lao students inhabit as they explore who they are, and who they may be becoming, i.e. their identity. Identity development (Ricoeur 1992) is formed through narrative. Telling one’s story bridges life’s stages, whether they refer to age, or cultural and economic changes. This research seeks to interpret selected Lao students’ stories of their past, their present, and how they envision and plan their future. The purpose of this research is to ferret out policy recommendations that may serve to strengthen and broaden the Lao education system.

Research Process:
This research is grounded in critical hermeneutic participatory theory (Herda 1999) supported by concepts of understanding and narrative identity (Ricoeur 1992). Three categories used for data collection and analysis are Mimesis1, figuration: reflection and remembering the past, Mimesis2, configuration: narrative emplotment, and Mimesis3, refiguration: imagining the future. Data were collected through both formal and informal conversations with selected participants at Lao American College in Vientiane, Laos. Transcriptions of the conversations provided the text for analysis. This process offered the researcher opportunities to work collaboratively with Lao students to explore the present and reflect on the past and future.

Research Implications:
Lao students are aware that the Lao way of life is slow to change in light of the development process. They know their country compares unfavorably, in terms of socioeconomic development, to some of their neighbors. They see an education system in need of change. Students can and should be given the opportunity to explore education development in conversations with others who shape policy. If education in Laos would become a primary priority, socioeconomic development would greatly benefit and, moreover, would be strengthened by the possibility that the dreams of students could become a reality.