Increased global migration has created more linguistically and culturally diverse schools. Many education systems, which were previously constructed as monolingual and monocultural, are now compelled to evolve and support pupils with multilingual and multicultural backgrounds. This study takes a fresh and holistic view of education for secondary school pupils who are learning English as an additional language (EAL) by exploring their language development, identity and social integration. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory and perezhivanie are employed as the theoretical framework for understanding EAL pupils’ lived experiences and their teachers’ pedagogy. The study utilised a mixed methods multiple case study approach across five secondary schools in Northern Ireland. EAL pupils participated in group interviews, lesson observations and questionnaires. Teachers participated in interviews and lesson observations. The findings reveal that EAL learners often interpret their lived experiences (i.e. their perezhivaniya) through pivotal learning and social interactions which they synthesise, resolve and overcome. Processes of overcoming were mediated by teacher and peer relationships, finding a sense of belonging, the ability to speak out, the use of machine translation and conceptions of trust. It was further apparent that language development, identity and social integration were deeply interlinked and had a reciprocal relationship in EAL learners’ perezhivaniya. Teachers acknowledged and engaged with EAL pupils’ perezhivaniya in supporting their English language development and peer relationships. However, viii more nuanced understanding was lacking regarding learners’ processes of overcoming and the role of home languages. The study has both theoretical and practical implications. In theoretical terms, it has made a contribution by establishing perezhivanie as an effective theoretical lens for understanding the lived experiences of EAL learners. In practical terms, the findings have generated knowledge for developing new holistic pedagogies which recognise and engage with the interlinked nature of language development, identity and social integration in the educational experiences of EAL learners.