This paper examines refugee students’ experiences in the Austrian mainstream school system. It highlights four areas: school connectedness, social exclusion, support systems and friendships. In the study, 55 refugee students between 8 and 21 years old enrolled in primary and secondary education participated in a semi-structured interview. Data were analysed with directed qualitative content analysis, whereby codes were created deductively and inductively. Students stressed the importance of schooling in order to prosper in the future, particularly through language acquisition. Peers and bilingual teachers played an important role in their efforts to learn German and develop feelings of belonging in the school system. While language acquisition was important for the students, they indicated that other support measures (i.e., remedial education) were largely absent. Further, half of the students reported bullying experiences (verbal, social and physical) associated with their refugee status, language proficiency and religious affiliation. This study has implications for school professionals. The scope of support refugee students receive at school must be broadened, forced migration should be addressed in school in order to counteract negative effects of bullying students receive due to their refugee status and school connectedness can be promoted by hiring staff from diverse cultural backgrounds.

DOI: 10.1002/ijop.12662
ISSN: 0020-7594