And, speaking of a grateful heart (see last post!), I know some super grateful children that help me be a more grateful American. As I may have mentioned, I learn every day from ‘my’ kids, both biological and not! One particularly inspiring group is the ESL population (English as a Second Language). I have so much respect and admiration for ESL teachers who are teaching these children English, and also math, and also social skills, and also getting them clothes, and so on and so on….. These students come from all walks of life, and all sorts of countries across the world. They come from different religions, different customs and cultures, different educations, and different circumstances that brought them to America. It’s amazing that they adapt so quickly.
They do NOT receive counseling upon entering this country, something a colleague and I are brainstorming how to remedy. Many of these families are refugees and have literally escaped their country to survive. Despite misconceptions, they are not coming to American for a free ride. In fact, many parents have to literally start over because their formal education and/or degree is not applicable here. I have met a father who now works as a bagger at Kroger when he was a psychologist in his home country. And, I have known children whose fathers were illegal immigrants working construction or landscaping six days a week. The ESL families I’ve known work a lot harder than a lot of Americans I know. And, they certainly expect to and most become self-sufficient. Again, the mentality is better than a lot of lazy Americans I know.
One particular ESL group I’ve grown to know well was referred to me by their ESL teacher last spring. There was a lot of turmoil and conflict within the group. Most of the group was from the Middle East but they had different family values about how it was appropriate to assimilate into the American culture. And, the arguing was growing out of hand. So, I agreed to meet with this group. All spoke Arabic except the one, new Cuban boy. Small group counseling with children who are from another culture, religion, AND speak another language is challenging. But, with a lot of pictures, role-playing, drawing and taking turns, we made it work and made a lot of progress. The end of the group also coincided with the end-of-year talent show and who should want to enter, but this special group of children who hadn’t even been in the country a year. The song they chose, That’s What Makes You Beautiful (One Direction!). So quickly they had become Americanized! They practiced in my room one morning and it brought tears to my eyes, the coordinated dancing and enthusiastic singing.
Again, this year, the children wanted to be in the “friendship group”. How could I say no to such an eager group of cute kids!? One activity that stands out in mind this year was the Venn diagram I had them draw comparing and contrasting their ‘home’ country and America. I learned a lot from having less farms and vegetables here to more cats there! (running the streets) But, what I learned most was the pros of American way outweighed the fond memories of their old homes. These kids are SO grateful to be here. They remind me how grateful I should be. I am in awe of their enthusiasm for just being here, going to school, and living in a small, subsidized apartment.
When I take in used clothing that either kind friends have donated or Anna and Brody have outgrown, I go straight to the ESL room. Interrupting class last week, those children acted like they were shopping in a department store! They are just thrilled to pick out clothes for their baby brother or sister.
Just this week, we had a Secret Santa shop at school where children may pick out two items that have been donated, yard-sale like items. The Muslim children I know were just as enthusiastic as the American children, Santa paper and all! They may hold different beliefs but are assimilating just fine; the spirit of Christmas and joy (for different reasons) has rubbed off on them!
Here’s a excerpt of a book I hope to publish one day, dedicated to these children. (Call me if you have a publisher!)
I come to your land for a life of peace. I have seen and heard guns. I have left loved ones behind. I fled from my only home not knowing where I’d be next. I have been sad.
I come to your land for safety. I have heard loud, scary things. I have wanted to sleep and could not. I wanted to be alone, and could not. I have been anxious.
I come to your land to learn. I have gone to school, but only sometimes. I have wanted to learn, but the school was closed. I have wanted books but had no money. I have felt frustrated………
If you meet one of these dads at the grocery store, or look into the eyes of a refugee child, have more empathy or just less judgment. Their road has been difficult but they are choosing to be in this free land and are so grateful.