Summer (Fellows) in the City: Karina Xie ‘19, Volunteer Teaching Assistant at IRIS

Karina Xie '19, Volunteer Teaching Assistant at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS)

Karina Xie '19 is an English major in Davenport College who is a Dwight Hall Summer Fellow at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS).

Hand drawn lesson plan
What is your dream job? 

I would love to continue working in advocacy in the nonprofit sector and continue being able to write and teach!

What is your favorite thing to do in New Haven? 
I like to meet and talk to new people and learn their stories along the way--it is so inspiring to see people all around the city committed to New Haven! Whether it is an exhibit about New Haven in the YUAG, activists at Unidad Latina en Accion, or a coworker at IRIS, we all call New Haven home and want to serve our community in our own way.
what have you been doing as a summer fellow?

At IRIS' Summer Learning Program, I work with high school age refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and the Congo on everything from reading and writing to group book projects. Students sharpen their English vocabulary and writing with articles from Newsela, for example an article about sport hijabs helping Muslim girls participate in athletics. We also brainstormed for book projects, one with the theme of "Welcome to America," as well as a recipe book of foods from students' home cultures.

how is the work you are doing important for the organization?
On the individual level, I hope to be a mentor and a friend to students. I also want to form a lasting relationship with IRIS and be a source of help and advocacy in the future. In the fall, I want to continue working with the high schoolers in this program or other high school refugees as part of the Yale Refugee Project, in doing so helping to enrich students' lives throughout the year.
what excites you most about your fellowship and the work you're doing?
I am happy whenever I see the students excited about what they're working on in class, as well as different and new aspects of their environment.
what is your favorite part of your fellowship?
I love having our Wednesday dinners with people in fields very related to ours. Every week I am inspired by their work, the journey they took, and their impact on the community.
What have you learned so far during your fellowship that you feel is important to you, either personally or professionally?
I have learned to interact with people from different backgrounds, for example different styles of teaching with students at different ELA levels! I have also learned to ask for advice on what I can do better. For example, brainstorming what to write about ga'at, a breakfast porridge from Eritrea, I usually spelled out the sentences in my writing notebook for the student I was working with. Later that day, I spoke with Cristina and asked what she thought about that method and if she would do it differently. I learned that while it was helpful write out the sentences, especially since our student was so new to English, I could use other techniques to increase retention of certain words. I could sound the words out, spell the words so students get used to the letters, and focus on the vowels, since they sound similar.
what have you discovered over the course of your fellowship that has been unexpected or surprising to you?
I have found that I really enjoy the chance to interact with students during breakfast, lunch, or recess as much as I enjoy working with students during class.
What has been an impactful experience or defining moment for you as a fellow?
It was a defining moment staying behind one lunch period to look after two younger children in the cafeteria. During mealtimes, all the teachers and volunteers looked after the students from all age groups, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. There is one young boy and his sister in the early elementary group--the sister likes to drink apple juice and the boy likes cereal for breakfast. One time at lunch, they were the only two left behind, as all the other parents had picked their children up. The boy was starting to cry, but the teachers and volunteers were about to have their meeting. Someone else was staying behind to look after the two, but they were just sitting, and I thought they might like to play with something while waiting, and have something to be excited about. I went up to our morning meeting place in the library where we have a bunch of toys, and picked out a construction set. The boy stopped crying when I brought the construction pieces to him and his sister and they started playing immediately. I have seen the two every day since then, and they haven't cried. This was a defining experience for me as a Summer Fellow because it is everything I believe in--a way to serve others, and help make their days this summer filled with a little more happiness.
What are you most proud of in your fellowship so far?
I am most proud of being able to serve students in one on one or group settings. Whether it's sounding out a word, carrying bags of bouncy balls and bubbles to recess, brainstorming meal for the recipe book, or helping a girl find the back of her earring, if the students need something, I am glad to help.
What have you been thinking and reflecting on during your fellowship that you have not previously reflected on before?
I am reflecting more on different styles of teaching, especially those that are not directed towards native English speakers but rather ESL students. I want to empower students particularly when they are learning a new language. I want the students' voices to take up more of the discussion, which will involve me asking more questions, and learning from the students themselves.
What inspires you to keep moving forward in your work?
When I see the lives of students and their families happening before me, I am inspired by their trust in the work I'm doing, and it makes me want to keep serving people in this way. There is one really playful boy in the middle school group who is a class clown but in a friendly way--he says hello to everyone in the morning. This boy was so gentle when he was picking up his little brother to give his mom a rest. His little brother and sister also come to the Summer Learning Program, and his mom participates in the Mommy and Me program at IRIS that provides caretakers and teachers for mothers to learn English without being separated from their babies. It was moving to see such a tight bond between refugee families and IRIS, and it made me want to keep forging relationships like these in the community.
what would you tell someone who was interested in going into similar work as you?
I would definitely encourage anyone to work with ESL or learning programs for refugees! I would tell them this kind of work is important now more than ever.



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