Making Global Connections Local

Bowdoin students at PAE

Teaching and Learning with Maine’s Immigrant Communities

Through the McKeen Center, Bowdoin students have found a number of ways of bursting out of the bubble and connecting with residents in the surrounding communities. For several students, this connection has extended to include new Mainers or immigrants who have recently resettled in Maine. As tutors and teachers at Portland Adult Education (PAE), El Centro Latino and Portland Housing Authority, Bowdoin student volunteers have engaged in cross-cultural learning experiences with organizations that cater to the needs of immigrants and refugees in the area. Several students have even found ways to connect their volunteer experiences to their academics such as senior and Sociology major Monica Bouyea ’14, whose experience teaching English at El Centro Latino complements her year-long independent study focused on understanding the perceptions of access to justice among Latino immigrants in Maine.

Within these organizations, Bowdoin volunteers mainly serve as teachers and tutors, assisting students both young and old to improve their English language skills. PAE volunteer and group leader Robbie Harrison ’14 remarked that, “In a classroom of mostly immigrants and refugees whose experiences often included turbulent conditions in their mother countries across East Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, my privilege as a native English speaker born in the U.S. manifested itself when I entered the classroom.” Work with international communities in Maine allows Bowdoin students to reflect on the many opportunities they have been given and to learn that even the simple ability to communicate in English is a great privilege that many lack. Another PAE volunteer and group leader Rachel Sege ‘14 expressed her admiration for the students who “come to class often after a full day of work, often with children at home, and often after a lifetime of obstacles and challenges, and they continue their learning with optimism and persistence.” Rachel remarked that she is inspired to adopt the same enthusiasm in her own studies.

Engaging in work with international students has served as a great opportunity for Bowdoin students to enhance their understanding of the challenges that immigrants and refugees face in Maine specifically and in the U.S. more broadly. Their commitments to work with these international students has allowed many Bowdoin students to form strong connections and relationships with members of Maine’s immigrant communities. Reflecting on her relationship with a student at El Centro Latino, Olivia Reed ’15 said, “Every week, she walks to the Center, rain or shine, and knowing that she’s expecting us keeps me going back. Every week, she learns a little more about English and I learn a little more about her.” The international connections formed between Bowdoin student volunteers and international populations truly represent what Monica Bouyea ’14 calls “reciprocal learning at its finest!”

Any Bowdoin students interested in learning more about connecting with immigrant and refugee communities in Maine can contact Marble Karuu (mkaruu@bowdoin.edu), the McKeen Fellow for International Connections in Maine for more information.

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