A Summer of New Experiences

Imagine for a moment some of the tasks on your to-do list this week. Chances are a lot of things on the list are “just get it done” tasks, the kind of thing you have to remember to do, but you don’t think about very much –picking up prescriptions, grabbing groceries for the week, scheduling a dental appointment for your child.

Now imagine you’ve been dropped off in a totally new country – a place where people don’t speak your language, you don’t get food at the same kind of store, and you have no idea who to call or even if you can call to make that dentist appointment. Suddenly, that “just get it done” to-do list has become full of looming, seemingly impossible tasks. Common activities are suddenly hopelessly confusing. This is the reality for many refugee families when they first arrive in the United States.

This summer I’ve had the pleasure to work with many of Sioux Falls’ refugee families through an internship at the LSS Center for New Americans. When refugees arrive in Sioux Falls, they are assigned a set of LSS case managers. These case managers have varying specialties, such as locating housing, navigating the medical system, finding employment, and enrolling children in public school.   However, I think of myself as the luckiest person working here, because, as the intern, I get to help out in all of these specialties.

Leigha Vilen

CNA Intern Leigha Vilen

As someone who has never spent much time outside the United States (I thought the move to college was a big transition!), I have been awed and inspired by the resilience of the refugee families we work with as they negotiate living within an unfamiliar culture. The role of the caseworker is primarily as a facilitator, helping to navigate the challenges created by this unfamiliarity. Our clients take this little bit of help and use it to build amazing futures: achieving new educational goals, advancing in their careers, and creating the best possible futures for their children and grandchildren.

Leigha working at her desk

Leigha working at her desk.

I owe LSS and the families I was lucky enough to work with a huge thank you for an amazing summer. I came in hoping to learn a little bit about social work and refugee resettlement, but I’m walking away with a vision of what the American Dream can look like at its best.

 

Leigha Vilen

Summer 2017 Intern, LSS Center for New Americans

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