It’s October already, and Nikki and I have met our refugee family five times! They are Karen Burmese and have only been in the United States for a month or so. The mother and father are in their early to mid 30s, and they have three children: a daughter who appears 2-3, a younger son who is maybe 6 and an older son who is about 8.
The first time we met them we luckily had the help of the mother’s cousin, who has already lived in the States for a couple of years and speaks English fairly well. Our family spoke almost no English, except for perhaps the alphabet and simple greetings. (Now they know some basic phrases, but I’m getting ahead of myself!) They were very shy at our first meeting and I could tell they were overwhelmed by all of their new experiences. I could detect a lot of anxiety from the father – he was very worried that he didn’t know enough English to hold down a job, and so he kept saying to us (through his wife’s cousin) that he was very happy we were there because we could teach him English.
Luckily over our next meetings the family became more and more outgoing with us. It was wonderful to see them coming out of their shell and letting their true personalities shine through. They call us “teacher” when they want to get our attention – “Teacher, how you say?” “Teacher, can you teach me how to know?” I always get a little touched by this, and I know Nikki does too.
Usually the mother makes tea or pours us juice and sets out fruit for us to eat while we sit on the floor and go over their ESL homework. The kids sometimes play in the background and sometimes join their parents for lessons. They’re becoming more comfortable around us, and it’s great to see that they can laugh at themselves when a word is particularly hard to pronounce.
More to come… I have to save some content for future posts!