A Passion for English — Omaha, NE

In Burmese it’s Chay-tzoo-beh. In Thai it’s Tab bluh. In Somali it’s mahadsanid.

These words are all spoken in different languages but ultimately have the same meaning: Thank you.

These words were what I learned from my new found friends at the Yates Community Center every time English class had ended for the day. The thought of thankfulness is what comes to mind when I think of my half-week trip and all the people that I have met. From the cozy group car rides in a white dodge van we named “Tiff” to the amazingly energetic kids at Gifford Park elementary to hearing a refugee’s story from Nepal to delicious momos (steamed dumplings) to guava candy to Scattergories to documentaries to gardening at Augustana Lutheran Church to AirBorne vitamins to reflection time to Mr. Glenn’s peanut butter jelly song to the students at Yates Community Center, all these little moments were what made our trip special to me. Our trip focused on refugees in Omaha and the struggles that many of them face on their journey to asylum and in the States. I remember Tania, at the CHI Health Center, telling us about her experiences with her refugee patients and how many of them did not have a choice on leaving their home country or even coming to the United States for safety. It had never occurred to me how global the situation was and how many people were affected by it before this trip.

I remember the third day we went to the Yates Community Center and there was a new student named Moo Sar that sat in the back corner who had just arrived in the States about 3 weeks ago. She was a refugee from Thailand and had a baby boy who sat in the walker most of the time and played with other children. I was in charge of teaching her the alphabet and seeing if she could respond to questions like “How are you?” or “What’s your name?” For a while she did not say anything and was quiet but after a while I heard her say some letters when I pointed to the alphabets. We worked on writing the alphabet for a while and practiced writing her name and sounding out each letter together. We kept practicing both the conversation questions and spelling out her name until she could write out when I asked her to. I saw how she paid attention to every curve, stroke, and detail required for each letter. When she finished practicing I asked her to write her name out one more time. That uplifting feeling that came along with teaching someone how to spell their name in alphabet and them being able to single handedly write their name back to you is very impactful. I could see that every time she wrote her name, she started gaining more confidence and independence and eventually, she looked up at me and smiled. I asked her one of the conversation questions I had been asking since the beginning of our session, which was “What is your name?” and she told me “My name is Moo Sar.” That was the moment that I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and excitement for her and gave her a thumbs-up. That feeling of finally understanding something in class and to reach on to something that was not attainable before was something that I related to very much.

Learning in itself is a journey because it is a challenge to learn a new language and on top of that, having a passion and love for learning English is something that all the students had, which I never really thought about and took for granted. Through this trip I have learned that every human being deserves a chance at a better life and given an opportunity to pursue their passions, including learning English.