Being a Friend–as well as a tutor–to refugee youth

Julia and I had been working together for a few weeks and yet, as sweet and polite as she and her family always were to me, I could not help but feel like the meetings were obligatory for her and not much more than homework help. After all that she has been through in her life as a refugee, I wanted our Wednesday nights to be an opportunity for me to make things easier for her in the US and I wanted to be her friend. In this attempt, I regularly offered an open invitation for Julia to come visit me at school when leaving, yet never received much response from her other than a shy ‘ok, maybe.’ So when, a couple weeks later, she asked me what I was doing the following Friday, I was really excited and hopeful she was becoming more comfortable with me. Having her meet me posed a few difficulties, since she does not have a cell phone or know her way around campus, but we ended up finding each other eventually. We walked around campus and talked about what her school is like, as well as daily life. I did not realize until near the end of our visit that she was wearing (on one of the coldest days yet) only a t-­‐shirt and a thin sweatshirt. I made sure we spent the rest of the time inside after she would not accept borrowing one of my coats. This was really interesting to me because, as compared to how I was raised to always politely speak up when I was uncomfortable (“squeaky wheel gets the grease,” my mom would tell me), Julia was being polite in her own way by dealing with the cold silently. I made a mental note then to, in the future, subtly make sure that she is comfortable without making her feel as if she is being rude. This visit brought us closer in multiple ways that I would later notice in our meetings. First, I think it really helped for her to come and see where I am living (a tiny dorm) so the relationship feels more equal than me just always coming into her space. It also allowed me to understand Julia and her culture better, allowing me to adjust how I tutor. I always make sure that she understands the material we are covering and is not just saying so out of politeness. Serena S.

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