Beginning my service learning activities, I was to teach the complicated English language to a refugee named Rebecca. I was very nervous, as I had never attempted this before. When we first met, I could tell she was a bit nervous as well. She had been in America only for a short while, and was still getting acclimated to this new, unusual culture. She seemed eager to learn, but I sensed I needed to make her feel more comfortable. As we began studying Dr. Seuss books, we laughed at silly words and sounds. We tried to laugh as often as possible; this eased the nervousness and gave us a connection. I believe this was a good place to start. It was hard for her to comprehend the meaning of certain words, so we focused on the pronunciation of vowel and consonant sounds. I drew pictures and had her draw pictures. I wrote and pronounced letters of the alphabet and had her write and pronounce letters of the alphabet. The most difficult letters for her, we found, were the “f” and the “p”. When she struggled with certain words, it was hard for me not to tell her the correct answer immediately. I tried to let her conclude the proper pronunciation by showing her how to split the word into syllables. She was learning quickly. Every week she dramatically improved. Soon we began simple conversation in English. She began to comprehend sentences and was able to ask questions when she didn’t fully understand.
As we continued meeting for 2 hours every Tuesday afternoon, Taylor and I would be required to interview Rebecca about her integration into the American culture and some of the struggles she had thus far encountered. She was very hesitant about disclosing this personal information and delayed this process for a couple of weeks. When she was finally willing to discuss her story, it was still hard for her to understand and comprehend most of what we were saying, so we decided that we would ask her friend Sara to translate.
We began the interview by asking about the struggles of the actual process of coming to America. She told us that the time it took to get here was very tedious. She had to wake up very early, most mornings, and travel to the United States Embassy. Rebecca says they were somewhat hard on her, so she could prove her persistence, and willingness to come. She was required to set up interviews and gather specific documents. She was to show a passport, a marriage certificate from her husband in the U.S., and a birth certificate proving her daughter was an American citizen. She also had to have her husband’s proof of residence, work, school, etc; any concrete evidence to prove she was married and had a child. She stressed that it was very hard for everyone to enter the U.S., but explained that many other Lost Boys’ wives were denied, simply because they had no children. She said this process took a very long time- around two years. Next, we asked how life in the U.S. was for her, after the tedious process of making it here. She said she was just happy to be here with her husband and little girl Ayak. She says it has been very difficult adjusting to general difficulties like using a stove, cleaning, etc. Her husband had to teach her how to use apartment appliances. Another difficulty she stressed was her loneliness while her husband was at work, as she has no driver’s license or car to get around. She explained that while she enjoys the church community, there is a lack of the community she is used to. Lastly, Rebecca was open to this learning experience. She is “happy to learn new things” and has enjoyed working with Millsaps students. She says it has helped her a lot.
I plan to continue working with Rebecca. This has been a great experience for me and I also have learned a lot.