Upon graduating from DePauw University in May 2013 I began my 10 month adventure at Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc, and with a heavy understanding and desire to linger in a comfortable home I must say goodbye to an amazing organization and staff. Working with immigrants and refugees offers insights and uncommon perspectives on living in America and so I offer you a list highlighting the moments at work that made me think, caught me off guard or inspired fits of laughter. I share this list, not to make fun or laugh at the resettlement process, but to chuckle at the strange happenings in the states that would seem ridiculous if they were not so common-place. The 90 days mentioned in the title refers to the department I worked in at Exodus. I worked in the reception and placement program which last up to 90 days after arrival. Special thanks to the staff members and clients who shared these moments with me.
1. In the car on the way home from the airport on a beautiful autumn afternoon less than an hour after arriving in Indiana for the first time my client turns to me and says, “I thought the pictures of the forests with yellow, orange and red leaves were made on the computer, but they are real!”
2. “I tried to fry my chicken in apple juice because I thought it was cooking oil.”
3. One student I pick up for English class each week loves Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. This spring his favorite song is “Roar” by Katy Perry. He does not know any of the words except the part that says, ‘ROOAAR.” Each week he attempts to sing the entire song to me a capella.
4. Many clients come from cultures where people marry much younger than is common in America. As a single spinster at 23, many clients have mentioned what a shame it is that I have neither children nor a husband. Some list the reasons I should get married. My favorite: “If you had a man you wouldn’t need your GPS anymore, and you could sell it to me.”
5. Walking into a grocery store with automatic sliding doors. One co-worker to his friend, “Did you tell that door to open?” “No, did you?” “No.” “How did it know to open?” ” I don’t know” “More importantly, how do we tell it to open when we want to go home?” “I don’t know.”
6. A voicemail from one of my students explaining why she did not come to English class, “It is so cold outside. If I leave my house I will die. I cannot come to class.”
7. Me: “It’s too cold. You need to wear a coat to class.” Student: “Teacher, it’s okay. I do not need a coat. I am wearing 6 shirts, 2 pants, and 2 skirts.”
8. I picked up a family of 4 for a health screening at the health department. When they took off their coats in the car, I noticed all 4 were wearing Christmas-themed fleece onsies (Momma, Papa, and the two sons). On the way there we stop at a red light and a man with a grill, pants sagged down past his booty starts to cross the road. He notices my car full of people in holiday footy-pajamas and starts to laugh, my clients see his bright red under-roos and start to laugh at him. I think to myself: This will never happen again ever in the entirety of my life.
9. “One time I tried to walk from NYC to DC. It didn’t look so far on the map…. Thank God my friend gave me 35 dollars for the bus.”
10. “When I arrived in NYC I kept wandering into sandwich shops looking for the subway. I remember thinking, ‘Americans are fat because they have to buy a sandwich and then ride the train. It should be eat a sandwich and walk OR ride and do not eat a sandwich.'”
In all seriousness, I have learned more in the last 10 months than in my 4 years of college (and I’m a super nerd who loved college courses). I have nothing but admiration and respect for the staff and clients.