I’ve been volunteering with iACT since January of 2011. I graduated from college in 2010 and was working as a literacy tutor with A Community for Education (ACE) under AmeriCorps when I first began volunteering with iACT. I had worked with the North African immigrant population in Paris during my semester abroad in college, and I think that was one of the experiences that led me to become interested in working with people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. I didn’t know much about what it actually means to be a refugee or what the process of resettlement is like.
I learned about iACT through another AmeriCorps member who had volunteered with them, but I ended up doing a partnership at a different non-profit that fall. About halfway through my AmeriCorps year, I was in the early stages of applying to medical school and became interested in studying global health. I remembered iACT and decided that working with refugees was something I would really enjoy and learn from.
My main role as a volunteer has been teaching ESL at the North Lamar location on Monday evenings. I also helped with iACT’s summer program for the children of refugees. I’ve found teaching the evening ESL class to be incredibly rewarding. I feel inspired by our refugee students and how much they have gone through, both before and after resettling in the U.S. Learning English is incredibly important for them, so they are genuinely eager and motivated to learn. Each class helps them gain the skills to go out and go shopping, go to the doctor, or chat with someone new they meet. Class isn’t just a place for them to learn English either – it’s a community and a place for students to meet other refugees going through similar experiences.
Last week we were holding a registration with a Nepali interpreter – a rare chance for me to hear what our Bhutanese students are thinking and feeling. A student who has attended class since I first began teaching talked about how even if she walks away from class having learned just a few new words, those few words help her communicate a little better than before. Sometimes with low level students it can feel like they’re not learning at the pace you want them to, and that can be frustrating. I think her comment reminded me that even learning a little bit of new vocabulary each class is useful and meaningful in their lives.
I’ll be leaving this fall to attend medical school, but I look forward to many happy months with iACT until then! Volunteering with iACT helped me think about what I want to do with my life. I realized that working with people of different backgrounds and cultures is something I’m passionate about and something that I hope to incorporate into my career as a doctor by working in underserved communities in the U.S. and abroad. The most important thing I gained from my time with iACT is a wonderful group of French-speaking African friends. Being able to talk to the French-speaking students I’ve met through iACT in their native language has really helped me understand what the experience of resettlement is like.