Teaching a refugee student has allowed me to travel without a plane ticket

teaching refugee student
Julia Lockwood

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017: Teaching a refugee student has allowed me to travel without a plane ticket

Over 12 years during my childhood, my father’s job took our family abroad and we lived in a variety of countries in Europe and Asia. It was a wonderful way to grow up and I learned to appreciate each country through its native people.  I made friends who invited me into their homes, made me wonderful meals and explained their customs. Their openness and warmth made the country a home for me and I learned to appreciate it not just as a tourist but almost as if I were a native. As an adult, while I have traveled for business and pleasure, it was harder to have the same experience as I did not have the opportunity to build relationships.

One of the reasons I decided to volunteer with Refugee Transitions was to return the favors the friends from my youth had given me.

Retired with children who have moved out, now it could be my turn to help a family new to our country feel comfortable in their new home. What I quickly learned is that I was repeating the experiences of my youth.

As a teacher to a refugee, twice a week I get to experience a little bit of Afghanistan through a family that is as generous to me as any family in my childhood. When I arrive at their home and before we start our lessons, I am presented with a wonderful lunch which can include palau (rice), mantu (dumplings), or kabob and is always followed by chai (tea). Yalda, my student, tells me stories about her family, here in the US and in Afghanistan – I once had a brief FaceTime chat with her mother in Kabul.

We compare notes on our families and laugh at the differences and similarities. Yalda’s cousin invited my husband and me to her engagement party, a big event with many people from the local Afghan community who were also happy to share their lives and teach me to dance in the Afghani way.

I have been working with Yalda for just over a year and it is still an adventure when we have our lessons together. While we do spend a lot of our time learning English and American customs, I always leave feeling I have learned something about Afghanistan and their people. Hopefully one day I will have a chance to visit Afghanistan, but if not, my relationship with Yalda and her family is the second best way to learn about this beautiful and complex country.

Refugees shaking hands

World Refugee Day June 20, 2017

Find events in your community and learn how you can celebrate World Refugee Day 2017.

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017, the Refugee Center Online is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.

The Refugee Center Online believes newcomers make our country a better place. Refugee resettlement is not just the moral or ethical thing to do – it benefits us and our communities as well. These stories from individuals around the country show how knowing, teaching, working with, and perhaps most importantly, being friends with, refugees have improved the lives of Americans.

About Julia Lockwood

Julia Lockwood is retired with grown children who are no longer at home. She volunteers with Refugee Transitions.