Nicky just completed a month long "J-term " with an internship in downtown Roanoke at the Immigration and Refugee Office. A professor had turned her on to this opportunity, but basically everyone has to find their own if interested. Otherwise, you can sleep during the month of January. Your choice.
Working mostly with refugees that have fled Bhutan and Sudan, she helped them fill out paperwork for Medicaid, food stamps, doctor's appointments and the like. She collected the necessities from the center's basement to set up an apartment for each incoming family. She made beds, matched up dishes as best she could, arranged mismatched furniture in the new apartments, paid for for three months while they settled in. In a company van logging 300,000 miles affectionately named Grandma, they'd all pile in and head to the doctor's, K-Mart or Dollar Stores to buy necessities, all paid for by donations. One very cold, snowy morning, a refugee young boy was seated up front and was shivering and rubbing his hands. She showed him how to put his hands to the heat vents to get warm. He had never seen such a thing, and for the rest of the ride, continually put his face and hands to the vents and never stopped smiling at her.
Most times when she went to pick up the clients, she was invited in and told to "sit" while she was served tea, orange juice or even traditional foods. Then everyone would stare at eachother as communication was difficult. Women always sat ON the coffee table, even in the doctor's offices. They also wore flip flops, even in the snow.
One day Nicky had to take $60 and buy food for a family of four for a week at a Super Wal-Mart. It had to be the kinds of foods they enjoy-curry, veggies, rice, lentils. Huh? "Mom, what's a lentil and where do I find one?" the call came into work. Also, "How will the cashiers know how much the vegetables are in the bags?" I had to smile as I realized that my child just learned how to manipulate the grocery store. Better late than never.
Last week she was walking through downtown Roanoke looking to ask storefront owners if she could hang a poster out front asking for bike donations for the refugees. She went into one dry cleaners and announced the three words they had feared to hear, "I'm from immigration...".
"I have green card!!" the woman yelled. The rest of the staff ran and fled out the back door! She said it was hysterical.
She learned so much about the world from fellow workers who had traveled. She learned of the laws and started using big words and phrases that I had never heard.
She now wants to take a course to teach English to the Bhutanese here on Saturdays. She wants to help the less fortunate, and learn of their culture. She dreams of arranging bus trips for them to get out and see sights around town, and even hanving her favorite family over at our apartment for dinner.
On the final day yesterday, she came home with a purple giftbag with a nice book bag the staff had gotten her, along with a thank you card signed by everyone. My favorite.. "Because of you, I can see my desk now".
She told me of the new incoming intern she met, who grew up in Saudi Arabia with her parents teaching English. She had traveled to over 40 countries paid for by the Saudi's during 10 years. She was fascinated by this girl's stories.
I said, "Yeah, it'll only take one person that will someday change your entire life."
To which she replied, " This internship has changed my life."