As graduation loomed, I was plagued by the same question many graduates face: What comes next?
With an Anthropology/Spanish double major, I was not graduating with a specific job title in mind. I knew I wanted to use my education to help others. A chance to use my Spanish language skills would be even better.
Non-profit work seemed a good fit. Among the many opportunities I explored, serving with AmeriCorps was particularly intriguing.
During my Senior year, I was fortunate enough to take a class ("Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Human Rights") that not only helped shape the way I looked at the world, but also steered me towards a career path. I wanted to improve the lives of those seeking refuge in the United States.
When I read a posting for a "Cultural Orientation AmeriCorps Member" serving with Catholic Charities of Tennessee Refugee and Immigration Services, I knew I found a match. I feel incredibly lucky to have been offered this opportunity; not all graduates get a "What comes next?" answer that fits so well.
In addition to the joy I feel "working" every day, I have gained a great deal of knowledge and bettered many skills including public speaking, interpersonal communication, and adaptability. I also regularly use my Spanish language skills.
Forming relationships with clients is one of my favorite things about working with Catholic Charities.
During Cultural Orientation sessions, we practice English vocabulary words relating to the day's topic. I send clients home with a binder full of vocabulary words, activities, and important resources that they can look through at home, hoping they will practice.
At the end of a recent session, I was talking with two Somali women, a daughter and mother. The daughter knew some English words, while the mother knew none (even though she had dutifully repeated after me in class in an attempt to learn English).
I wanted to make sure she understood how much I appreciated her efforts and affirm that her English had improved just by practicing a few words. I asked her and her daughter if they wouldn't mind teaching me a few words in Somali, so that the next time I saw them I could speak in Somali and they could speak in English.
When we next met, we had an entire multi-lingual conversation. We may have only said, "Hello, how are you?" and talked about our shoes, but it was something I will always remember.
This AmeriCorps experience has been truly incredible; it has shaped my plans for future education and beyond.
I want to attend law school and pursue a career in Human Rights law. I would like to continue working with refugees and building strong relationships, so that I may help improve the lives of those seeking refuge, even if only in a small way.
Anna Notestine, from Columbus, Ohio, graduated from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in May 2015 with a BA in Anthropology and Spanish. She hopes to pursue a degree in Human Rights Law.