Reflecting on the Refugee Experience
Packing up everything ever important in your life and escaping from violence going on in your country is evidently difficult; now on top of that add moving to a different country where the dominate language is completely foreign and the culture and standard of living is completely different from any reality you’ve ever been exposed to. These are the traumatic events that refugees experience everyday throughout the world. Working with people that have experienced traumatic events can be extremely difficult or greatly satisfying. The outcome of the overall experience will only be successful if enough time is dedicated to one’s refugees. By not only visiting them at least once a week, but also taking them out and about in the city, and having a true interest in their family and refugee past, the refugee family will learn to trust us and establish long lasting relationships that can potentially result in life-long friendships.
When meeting someone for the first time you get nervous, there is no knowing what to expect; meeting a refugee family can be slightly more intense. When I visited my refugee family for the first time I can’t say I wasn’t nervous. The whole walk to their home I kept thinking to myself, “will they speak english?” and “what if I make a rude gesture on accident?” Refugee’s come from all over the world and have gone through some tough obstacles, who know‘s how they will react to strangers coming into their home.
When I walked into the house of our refugee family I was very pleased to see that this family had made a lot of progress since first moving to America. They have lived in the United States for about two years now and they are doing pretty good; their house looked very nice and they owned a TV and computer. We walked in with Rob, a senior that has been visiting the family for almost two years now, and even though Rob has been going for nearly two years the looks on their faces when they saw Rob was remarkable. These people aren’t looking for anything more than a friend, a person they can trust to consistently visit them and help them emerge from their refugee status in the United States. Even the mom, who is an older women that doesn’t speak English, was happy to see Rob and us there because she knows her family is getting the help they deserve to gain a prosperous life in America.
Our family consists of two daughters, their parents, and some extended family as well. We helped the two daughters with their homework that night and I can’t say I’ve ever seen such motivation to get all the answers correctly and truly understand the meaning behide all the problems as for these two girls. They asked questions and weren’t afraid to say they didn’t understand a concept, even if it had already been explained to them. For them it wasn’t important how many times you had to explain something but that they comprehended it, the fact that now they understood and could go to class the next day with full knowledge of that concept. It’ll be going every week to help these girls and watching them achieve something great that will be truly remarkable, but just helping them with a simple concept, like counting money, can make all the difference for this family as well.
It doesn’t just have to be at home work that we do with the family, taking them out and about would be great for them as well. One of the reasons that refugee’s don’t go out often is because of money, lack of trust, and lack of knowledge. There are many cheap things to do throughout the city though and we can take them. A simple visit to the zoo is something they wouldn’t know how to make because you must organize the trip to the zoo, then the cost on entry, and finally there’s that communication barrier with everyone else living in such a huge city like Chicago; all of this can get extremely intimidating. By letting them know that they have us to go out with and we can protect them and help them communicate, this sense of protection and friendliness will not only make our refugee’s more of our friends, but it will also help them branch out into this amazing city they are living in.
Having weekly consistency and showing the family that this isn’t just some college volunteer opportunity much needed, will make this “beyond the classroom experience” a much more satisfying one. Knowing that we are helping a family who at one point may have been starving or living in dangerous/high crime war zones is not only an experience that will forever be rewarding, but an experience I think every college student should embark on because the refugee experience is one that must be shared with the world.