During the summer, International Connection, the English as a second language program at RBC, does not have classes. Instead I match upper-level students who can carry a conversation, with volunteers from the church. Students benefit from having someone that they can regularly speak English with all summer long. We suggest meeting once a week or once every other week at a public place such as cafes, fast-food restaurants, playgrounds, the mall or parks.
Recently, I met with a good-sized sampling of the 26 pairs that I put together in June and we chatted about their experiences over the summer – both the students as well as the volunteers. Early on, I had heard some negative responses from those who had trouble maintaining communication with their students (this was the tiny minority) so I was not prepared for the inspiring comments that I heard from the partners who attended last week’s meeting.
One volunteer had waded into the bureaucracy of a government-run, low-income, home-buying program in which his Chinese student and his wife had found themselves. Imagine dealing with all of that government and real estate jargon in another language! The volunteer patiently helped them figure out what documents were needed and then also why they had not heard back from the agency in question. They finally ended up with an application that is now being processed and this couple will soon start the search for their new home! This volunteer also assisted the student’s wife as she tried to find books in the library that were at her reading level. All of these activities are intimidating to people not born in this culture.
Another volunteer helped her student navigate the complexities of scholarship programs available to her high school child – a task that she was eminently suited for as a Fairfax County school teacher!
Several volunteers mentioned the hard-working nature of their students and cited their international friends as admirable examples to their own children of perseverance not only in language acquisition but also cultural integration. These students were/are serious about living and working here!
Very often we take our comfortable lives here for granted and we do not realize the uphill climb it is for 99 percent of the immigrant population that choose to settle here. When we do not develop a personal relationship with an international person, we miss out on knowing the great highs and lows of the immigrant experience. My faithful volunteers got to see this and are richer and more empathetic people because of it. Thanks be to God!