Thoj nam tawg rog cov tub ntxhais kawm tau qhia rau kuv hais tias lub neej yog ib yam dab tsi yuav tsum tau tsawv nkaus, enjoyed, qhia, thiab yuav xav thov ua tsaug rau

Learning cheerfulness and gratitude from refugees
Jon Schoenbock at clasroom desk circa 1989

Nyob rau hauv Honor ntawm lub ntiaj teb no Refugee hnub 2017: The most important lesson my refugee students have taught me is that no matter the difficulties one faces, life is something to be grabbed, enjoyed, qhia, thiab yuav xav thov ua tsaug rau

I have been an ESL teacher since 1979, and in most of those years, most of my students have been refugees. They have ranged in age from first grade to seventy years old, although the majority were teenagers since, for twenty-seven of my teaching years, I was at Washington High School in Milwaukee. My students have come from every continent, but most of them have been from Southeast Asia and from Africa. And despite the variety in age, language, kev ntseeg, or country of origin, they have shared some common traits: cheerfulness and gratitude.

Cheerfulness and gratitude

The most impressive common trait is an unflagging sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. I can’t remember a grouchy or whiny refugee. This is a constantly humbling experience since I have never known hunger or persecution or fear for my life, yet I complain all the time. And the things I complain about seem insignificant to the problems that these refugees face.

In most of the schools I’ve taught at, which include many lower-income Milwaukee schools, refugees were surely among the poorest of the students. Many of the families I encountered came to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They had left behind their homes, their families and friends, their language, their livelihood, and anything that was familiar to them. They had lost family members to war. Yet they were grateful for every day and opportunity. They were able to be aware of what they had rather than on what they didn’t have and have taught me to try to do the same.

In the last few years, I have also taught adult refugees. Unlike my younger school-age students, some of these adults have been disabled, either blind or having lost a limb usually due to war-related injuries. Again, despite the added difficulties that disability brings to life (I myself am mildly disabled), these students have never complained. They are grateful and cheerful and express this daily.

I once brought a sprig of fresh holly to a class of adult refugees from Burma. One of those students was blind from stepping on an IED. I gave him the holly and he smiled and said, “It smells so green!” This simple statement in the bleak days of winter showed me that I have much more than I realized.

Sacrifices and joie de vivre

In my first year or two of teaching adults, I met some of the parents of the very students whom I had taught at Washington High. The high schoolers came to school with newer clothes while the parents came to school wearing used clothes. The parents were obviously sacrificing everything for their children. Nyob rau hauv qhov tseeb, the very act of leaving their home in order to improve the lives of their children may have been a great sacrifice. So another common trait among the refugees I’ve encountered is one of shared sacrifice.

A final trait refugees have is the ability to laugh at themselves. Every year when I ask what they usually eat at home, one of them will inevitably say, “I eat a kitchen” (meaning chicken). As soon as they realize their mistake, they join in laughing with the rest of the class. So they seem to have a general joie de vivre despite the current or past trauma and tragedy of their lives. Yog li, perhaps the most important lesson my refugee students have taught me is that no matter the difficulties one faces, life is something to be grabbed, enjoyed, qhia, thiab yuav xav thov ua tsaug rau. It is a gift too precious to be squandered.

Nyob rau hauv Honor ntawm lub ntiaj teb no Refugee hnub 2017, cov neeg tawg rog Center Online sau dab neeg ntawm yuav ua li cas cov neeg tawg rog ua peb lub neej zoo dua.

Cov neeg tawg rog Center Online ntseeg hais tias cov neeg tuaj tshiab ua peb lub teb chaws ib tug zoo dua qhov chaw. Refugee resettlement yog tsis yog tus ncaj ncees los yog raug cai tshaj plaws ua - nws pab peb thiab peb cov zej zog zoo li. Cov dab neeg los ntawm cov neeg nyob ib ncig ntawm lub teb chaws ua li cas paub, qhia, ua hauj lwm nrog, thiab tej zaum tseem ceeb tshaj, ua phooj ywg nrog, cov neeg tawg rog tau kev zoo dua lub neej ntawm cov neeg Asmeskas.

Ntiaj teb neeg tawg rog hnub hli ntuj 20, 2017

Nrhiav cov txheej xwm nyob rau hauv koj lub zej zog thiab kawm tau li cas koj yuav nquam paj nquam nruas ntiaj teb Refugee hnub 2017.

Hais txog Jon Schoenbeck
Jon Schoenbeck has taught ESL in Milwaukee for 38 xyoo. When he’s not teaching, he enjoys spending time with his family, listening to classical music and opera (a distinction he’s never really understood), gardening, and reading.