Working and learning: they go together

The following is a personal reflection by Rachael, a summer Resettlement Intern. World Relief’s Refugee Resettlement internship connects students and recent graduates with opportunities to serve newly arrived refugees in a variety of ways, while also encouraging meaningful cross-cultural relationships and training them in professional casework skills.

This is the beginning of my third week of interning at World Relief and every day is a new adventure. Today was no exception. My job for the day was to meet a husband and wife at their apartment in Tukwila and teach them to ride the bus. A bit of a daunting prospect, since I don’t generally take the bus myself. But one thing I’ve learned in my two weeks here is that even if I don’t know how to do something, at least I have the skills to figure out how—I know who to ask and what kinds of questions to ask.

After getting lost trying to find their apartment and almost going to the airport instead, I found their building, asked the maintenance man where to park, and walked up to their apartment. A minute later, a young woman opened the door with a small girl peeking around from behind her. I smiled and the little girl gave me an endearing grin. I figured out that the woman’s name was Hawo, the one I was coming to find, but that she spoke absolutely no English. She managed to tell me that her husband was coming too, but that we had to go find him. So off we went to another apartment where we waited for her husband to get back from meeting with a friend. The other apartment was very warmly furnished. I felt like I was somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa with the rich colors and patterns in the curtains, couches and rugs. Hawo’s husband, Isak soon arrived and we went back to their apartment to get the bus tickets, drop their beautiful three-year-old daughter off with friends, and then hurried down the street to catch our first bus.

The trip to the World Relief office in Kent was uneventful. We caught all of our buses smoothly, dodged the raindrops on our final walk from the last bus stop, and arrived early. After waiting for a little bit, they had a job skills assessment that I got to sit in on. They were asked questions about former education and jobs, what things they felt particularly good at, and what their dreams were for ten years from now. The assessment would be used to help find them a job. Hawo couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do someday, but Isak wanted to be a mechanical engineer. For the present though, he was ready and willing to take any job available. He knew that they would most likely be hard jobs requiring long hours, but he was eager, saying he would do anything.

On our walk back to the bus stop, Isak asked me how it would be possible to go to school, saying, “Working and learning—they go together. Both are important. You need both to get somewhere.” I told him that maybe after working for a little bit he would be able to pay for classes at a community college. He then began to tell me how, for human beings, everything is possible. If something feels too hard, he said, you must say to your soul, “I can do it,” because it is possible to do it. I was impressed and told him that this attitude would get him far. I told him that so many Americans like having it easy and will stop doing something if it gets too hard. This, however, is not the attitude of the refugee, and it was not the attitude of Isak. He knows that the next couple months will be incredibly hard as he and Hawo learn about American culture and struggle to accustom themselves to this new lifestyle, but he is up to the challenge and willing to persevere through the hard transition for the hope of a better future.

In the end, the journey back to the apartment took way longer than needed. I got buses mixed up and we went in the wrong direction, ended up at the wrong end of the line, and had to turn around and take the bus all the way to the other end. It was a long afternoon, but Isak and Hawo were incredibly patient and gracious as we all learned a new system together. That is another trait that I have noticed in many new refugees—they are thankful for whatever help you can give, even if you don’t have all the answers, because it is more than they could do on their own. And as you figure it out, they learn how to figure it out too.

As I left their apartment, I reflected that we had all been learners together that day. And ultimately, that is a good position to be in. We can both learn so much from each other; it’s not a one-sided relationship. I look forward to seeing them again soon and asking them how their bus rides are going and what they are learning in English class. I hope that next time I will be able to have a short conversation with Hawo in English. And I am looking forward to learning together with more refugees this summer—teaching them about my culture, and learning about pieces of theirs. It’s a rich experience.

If you are or know a student or recent graduate who is interested in the Refugee Resettlement internship, find out more information at Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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