Educators in resettlement countries are grappling with ways to adequately engage and meet the needs of newly arrived refugee students. In this article we argue that to fully meet the needs of refugee students a deeper understanding of their educational experience as ‘a refugee’ prior to resettlement is vital. In particular we foreground the stories of three young former refugees and explore the ways in which they actively constructed new identities in order to access school in their host countries, prior to resettlement. This article discusses how the negative discursive positioning of ‘the refugee’ in the world today has limited the resources and access to education for young refugees. It concludes by arguing that as these students move into education in Australia there is a danger to quickly relabel young former refugees with deficit terms rather than opening up a discourse to include the intricate complexities of each refugee experience.