I knew that both Intro to Hinduism and Univ 190 would provide good learning experiences for me because I do not have a background with either Hinduism or refugees. But, I am glad that I switched into Univ 190 because I will be helping people outside of the university, which is one of the main reasons why I came to this school. However, as the day where Claire and I actually start working with our Congolese family is getting closer (we are still in the process of finding a day), I am getting more and more nervous. This will be my first experience working, hands-on, not just with a refugee family, but with any economically challenged family.
When I was in high school, my confirmation group and I volunteered at our local PADS once or twice for two hours. We prepared mattresses and food that we later served. After we served the food, the coordinators of the PADS told us to go out and mingle with the clients. I did not feel very comfortable doing that because I felt like everything that I could talk about would be a touchy subject. For example, it was either around Thanksgiving or Christmas one time we volunteered, and I asked one woman what she was doing for the holiday. I regretted that question the moment I asked it because there most likely is some sort of familial strain or abandonment or death if a person is homeless. But, I could not think of any other generic question to ask at the time.
I know that PADS is very different from working with a refugee family, but I have the same fears and more. I am afraid that I will say something or ask a question to offend one of my family members on accident by trying to make conversation. My awkwardness, language barriers, and differences in culture all combined could end in a disaster. However, Claire is one of the closest friends I have made so far in college, and she knows that I do not do well in social situations with new people; she will help me out. Also, just having her there will make me feel more comfortable.
I hope that our family has little kids because they are usually fun to be around. They are so free of inhibitions and probably do not know/understand the extent of their living situation. Also, I think that Claire and I both would be able to handle small children better than older children. The family that I thought that we were going to work with had teenage kids, and I was not looking forward to that experience because I am a moody teenager; I know how difficult I can be to be around, and I do not want to have to deal with that. However, if our family has teenagers, we will adjust and make the most of the situation. I always try to take the most out of a situation and try to learn something.
One characteristic that I have noticed about myself is that I do not like to do anything if I cannot be fully emotionally invested in it. So, I am excited to be working hands-on with our family. All of the kids who have come to speak to our class have said that they are “a part of the family.” I know that this might not happen to us, or it might take a while for this to happen, but I am really looking forward to learning about a completely foreign culture to me and accepted as “one of them,” even though I technically am not one of them. Since there will be a language barrier, I know that we will not communicate the way that I do with people who speak English, but I think that finding a way to communicate will be half of the fun and excitement of the experience. I know that the first few weeks will be a little rocky, but if we can get over that hump, I think that I will really enjoy spending time with the family and learning something new every visit.
I am glad that we are preparing for this experience by reading What is the What, learning about refugee’s journeys, and basic tips when working with them. As I said before, I had no knowledge of the refugee experience before the semester, and What is the What has really opened my eyes to what refugees go through in search of a better life. Also, the tips that we read about in The Middle of Everywhere and in our class lectures appear to be common sense, but I can see myself talking too quickly or getting overwhelmed easily and freaking out when something goes wrong if I do not prepare myself for the possibility of miscommunication or sudden emergencies. I can also see myself getting too involved and wanting to help too much. I am glad that we addressed that topic in class. I will mentally prepare myself with “crossing the line” while helping my family and laying down ground rules for myself about getting too attached.
Obviously I want to see if this works out with our family and if I like the experience before making long term plans or commitments. But, if it does work out, and I like it, I would like to stay in the Loyola Refugee Outreach club with the remains of my Loyola career. If I stay on campus over the summers, I could even continue to work with my family or other families. I have a feeling that this is going to be very challenging for me in all ways imaginable, but it will be worth it because I will come out a different person. I am not sure how, but I have a feeling that I will be transformed for the better forever.