You down with IRC, yeah you know me

I've been volunteering at the International Rescue Committee on weekday mornings tutoring refugees.  It's such a rockin' volunteer position - I should have signed up a long time ago.  I'm actually doing it to complete ESL teaching/tutoring hours for my TEFL certification, but I'm McLovin' it so much that I'm going to continue volunteering after I've met my criteria hours.  They need the help, I've got the time, and I really like it, so why not?  An old friend from high school set me up (shout out, JGanders, big thanks!), and I had no idea how cool his job is until now.

I'm mostly working with Awss from Baghdad, pronounced like "mouse" without the "m," and when I see him write his name, I always want to write an "-ome" on the end of it:  Awss-ome.  He doesn't really understand when I make that joke, so I end up chuckling to myself and moving along.  While we do work on some basic English, we focus mainly on job applications and interviews and things of that nature.  The refugees at the IRC are swept into this country and have to quickly (and overwhelmingly) grasp the ropes of American life and hit the road running to find a job in order to sustain themselves.  They get to cover more basic ESL vocabulary and grammar through another program (Catholic Charities, I believe).  So we spend time memorizing home addresses, phone numbers, and how to answer questions on job applications and in interviews.

Another student from Iraq joined us yesterday, Halim, and it was pretty hilarious to see Awss' eyes light up and show off.  He took the lead and helped me explain things to Halim, and he was SO proud to be able to translate.  Maybe a little cocky, too.  It was a fun class.  Halim laughs at my crazed state when I am frantically flipping through my Arabic dictionary...at least I think that's why he laughs at me.  Actually, they both probably think I'm sort of nuts with my wild gestures and such, but today Awss filled out a job application with WAY less help than he needed earlier in the week, so things appear to be sticking, nuts or not, and that's the point.

I've also worked with DayKlay and Nir, from Burma and Nepal.  I spent an entire hour on the alphabet with DayKlay and it was difficult for him to retain much past 4 letters at a time (he reallllllly likes the letter "F"), while Nir amazed me by picking up her pencil and writing out exactly what I was saying to her.  I was particularly blown away while explaining medical terms.  We came across the word "inhaler."  Yeah.  How to explain asthma and an inhaler?  I began flailing, choking and wheezing, and then fake inhaling miracle inhaler things.  She just looked at me funny and shrugged.  But when I said "Alice has trouble breathing.  She uses _________,"  Nir wrote "an inhaler."  She was grammatically correct!   Right on, Nir, right on.

Each student in the ESL class at the IRC has a different skill level.  Some come to the US with nil, nada, zilch ounces of English.  Some are more highly educated and have the basics.  Regardless of skill level, from what I've experienced so far, all are grateful and appreciative and trying.  They haven't been so fortunate in their last country, have had a whirlwind of a relocation, and are overwhelmed...and still eager.  It's heartbreaking and inspiring and rewarding.

At orientation, I learned that some of the refugees could potentially come from elite positions in their community:  they may have been doctors or lawyers and well respected.  And now, here they are, relocated to the US, starting from scratch, taking jobs as convenience store clerks, shelf-stockers at grocery stores, etc.  I can't imagine what that does to a person, and it chokes me up when I consider all the snap judgments and stereotypes out there.  Hello, humble pie.

Tutoring ESL at the IRC is totally different from the ESL I'll be teaching in Korea.  There I'll have a class of kids with the same skill levels collectively following one lesson plan.  They will be cranky after long school days, they likely will be at that "bratty" age, they will make fun of me in Korean so I can't understand, they will flick boogers and other gross things...I know what I'm in for, yet I'm certain that I will enjoy that experience just as I am enjoying the IRC.  Just differently so; while sure to be rewarding in many ways, teaching ESL to Korean kiddos certainly does not a humanitarian make.

Sooo...here's to a little perspective.  Also, be Awss-ome and sign up to volunteer at the IRC (there are so many ways to help).



LynneGwist said...

Your "humble pie" paragraph is exactly the reason why you are the perfect person for this line of work. Thanks for being so great, cupKate!

Anne and Andy said...

I love everything about this post!! Welcome to the world of teaching ...where you are frustrated one minute and beaming with pride the next!! Those students are so lucky to have you.