UNIV 190-003: Understanding Service and Social Justice: The Refugee Experience in America
Third Reflection Spring 2012
Before meeting my refugee family, I was completely at ease with the entire process. I did not think the process would be all that difficult. Or, so I thought. I had not realized the extent to which the refugee experience would affect me. It was not until we were driving to meet our refugee family for the first time, that I even realized I was nervous. I had brushed off the fact that there were thirteen members in our family, none of which whom speak English. Also, I doubted my ability to help them mentally, emotionally, and financially. I knew that they had been through many difficult struggles, and I did not understand how I could help. I had suppressed my nervousness for so long, that when it finally came out, I was petrified. However, growing up in the sports community, I was able to understand the importance of hiding my emotions. I had to put on a pseudo of being comfortable in order for my family to respect me. I knew that if I appeared shy and timid, I would seem week and my family would be unable to take me seriously. So even though I lacked the confidence and the ability to communicate with them through a common language, I refereed to past experiences when I was as an athlete. In uncomfortable situations, I have always lived by the motto “fake it until you make it”. Once the nerves hit me, I understood that I had to fake a smile and confidence in order to encourage the family that I could help. Through faking confidence, I was able to eventually acquire the confidence that allowed me to take the initiative in making a difference in their lives. Even though I came in with a good approach on the situation, the main reason for my positive experience is attributed to my refugee family. All thirteen of them opened their home with loving hearts and made us feel welcome. The family seemed genuinely exited so see us every time we came to visit. As their excitement for us to come grew stronger, so did my excitement to go visit them. Before I knew it, I went from petrified, to anticipating when we could visit again.
After experiencing the full spectrum of emotions with this refugee experience, I am able to look back and appreciate the entire process. I understand that I need to step outside of my comfort zone. Although I may be nervous and overwhelmed at first, the reward in the end will be worth the struggle. If I had not pushed through my emotions, I never would have experienced the love and gratitude that I received in the end. I have learned that I need to step outside of my comfort zone more often. Very few things make me uncomfortable, but when they do, I make a conscious effort to avoid them. However, I realized that with time and experience, I can overcome and uncomfortable situation. The experience made me view not only community service, but life as a whole, in a completely new prospective. I have learned that I do have the time and effort to make a difference, it is just a matter of dedication. I have learned to channel my energy in other places than my future. I put too much focus on my end goals that I rarely enjoy the journey. But through volunteering, I have been able to step outside of my hectic life style and view life in the present. I have learned to appreciate the now and never take a moment for granted. Seeing how happy and optimistic my family was, encouraged me to enjoy all of the little things. Additionally, the readings and discussions greatly transformed my refugee experience. First, it gave me an insight to what a refugee was. After fully understand their struggles, I was eager to help make a difference. However, I did not understand how I could help until the readings gave me references to get involved and tips to ease the process. I was able to realize the importance of social service. Not only does social service help the beneficiary, but it helps the benefactor. Both parties are able to reap the benefit of working together and trying to bridge the gap among inequalities. Additionally, the readings helped prepare me for dealing with different situations. It has helped educate me so that I will not be tricked by the family’s pseudos. Just as I masked my nervousness, so have they. I love their positive energy and optimism, but according to Pipher, I must be aware that this is simply just a cooping mechanism. Since the family has been through so much, they may be trying to be overly energetic in order to take the attention away from their past. Regardless, I appreciate every moment that I have with my family and try to teach them as much as I can while they are still in the honeymoon phase.
The entire refugee experience has greatly impacted the way I view community. Before, I believed that everyone should take care of themselves. It is everyone’s responsibility to provide for themselves and not be a burden among society. However, not everyone is capable of supporting themselves right away. Although I still believe that everyone should strive to support themselves, I now understand that help may be needed along the way. Oppose to giving material items and charity, we must give our knowledge and support in order to encourage refugees to live independently. This experience has helped me appreciate the journey. As I mentioned before, I am so goal oriented that I rarely enjoy the process. However, I have been able to understand and appreciate the different steps in achieving a goal. Although government and community support may not be ideal, it may be necessary within the journey in order to reach their final destination. Additionally, my experience of working with a refugee family has enable me to pay closer attention to peoples’ emotions. If someone tells me that they are okay, I believe them. However, through readings, I have taken more of a psychological prospective and analyzed not only what they say, but how they act. If someone says that they are okay, but visibly looks upset, then clearly something is wrong. I must go out of my way and let the person know that they can trust me that I am here for them to confide in. Not only has my own life transformed, but I truly believe that we have made an impact in their lives. Not only have we helped them by brining them basic necessities, but we have shared our knowledge. We have tried to assimilate them into American culture by showing them around Chicago and teaching them English. Additionally, we have acted as a support for the family, and most importantly, friends to the family. Since the family has only been living in America for a couple of weeks, they still have much room to grow in terms of assimilating with American culture. After visiting for the family for the last couple of weeks, I have become very close with the younger ones in particular. Their desire to learn, to achieve, and to simply have fun, encourages me to incorporate that mentality into my own life. As time permits, I would love to continue working with my family. Regardless of my level of dedication in the future, I definitely want to stay in contact with them and make sure they are doing well. After reflecting on my refugee experience, I have been moved, inspired, and benefited greatly. My eyes have been opened to see the impact that I can make on other peoples lives and the benefits that I can receive as well. Although I was very hesitant at first, the refugee experiences has greatly shaped how I view my life today.