The past few weeks of the Kenan project have been very busy, exciting, and at times, frustrating.
During my last two weeks interning in DC, I met with a community of resettled families in the suburbs of Maryland and I visited their apartment complex three times. Once when I went after work, I remember getting off the metro and feeling quite unsafe even though it was only 6pm. I got into a taxi and the driver charged me double the price. Although I knew I was being ripped off, there was little I could do being a female alone in a part of the state I was not familiar with.
It was difficult to gain trust in this community, but I was lucky to get connected to the families through previous contacts who have been working with them on a continuous basis. I interviewed 7 individuals in person, 2 on the phone, and I will soon post a more detailed analysis about about these interviews, which I am still working on transcribing (it takes forever!)
This week, I am back in Massachusetts and have been meeting with community members everyday. Monday and Tuesday I spent both full days in Westfield, MA interviewing families, but also getting to spend some time with them casually—watching Curious George and Bollywood dance shows that they enjoy. Although there were more frustrations with coordinating times to meet with families, I have enjoyed being more immersed and getting a better sense of how the families live their everyday lives.
Today, however, I had a really unique opportunity to do something I love: I taught a 2 hour SAT class for a group of 16 high school Bhutanese refugees in New Hampshire. Through my research project, I became connected with a young Bhutanese refugee in his late 20’s who has organized a “summer camp” for a group of 16 high schoolers to motivate them and help them catch up with their peers. As part of the camp, the students have an SAT class every Wednesday to help them prepare for the big test most of them will be taking very soon. When I got in touch with the community in New Hampshire, they told me about the program and invited me to help out with the class.
I showed up today and was surprised to find the camp organizer waiting for me. He told me that the teacher could not make it, and therefore, they wanted me to teach the class. I panicked for a few seconds, since I only brought an empty notebook and pen with me, and I haven’t thought about the SAT since I took it four years ago. Not a single student had an SAT book, and there were no materials available for the class. However, I realized that I had to do the best I could do with the given situation and I quickly used the available computer to print out vocab words, practice essays, and only other resources I could find.
As I was reviewing vocab words and asking the students for examples of sentences with the word “aspire” used correctly, it really hit me. I saw myself in those students exact same place a few years back, and all the barriers they have had to face became so evident to me. They are all just as bright and hardworking as the students in my high school, but they just recently came to this country. Their English level is a HUGE barrier and they also have no role models or anyone who can tell them about the college application process in the United States. I remember how daunting the process was for me; I cannot even imagine having to deal with that and also learning how to survive in an entirely new language, country, culture, and environment.
In those the two hours, I did what I could to motivate them to study for their SAT’s, give test-taking advice, and shared websites that offer free practice tests. They asked many questions about how they could afford college, what they should expect in college, what “majors” mean, and so much more. I admired their aspirations to go to college, despite the wall of barriers in front of them.
I know that I would not be at Duke today if I had not been able to buy numerous SAT books, take two very expensive SAT classes, and learn about the process from my older brother and already graduated friends and cousins.
Today’s SAT class experience was just another reminder of why it is so important to create community support for the refugee families who are being resettled in the United States—nobody can do it alone.
As the students illustrated the definition of “aspire” with their sentences (I aspire to complete all my homework, I aspire to graduate high school, I aspire to go to college, etc.), this vocabulary word gained an entirely new meaning for me.