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This past week I started my internship at the Scalabrini Refugee Center in Cape Town, South Africa. I am working with one other Duke student on the center’s UpLearn program. It is a program sponsored by College for America and Southern New Hampshire University to provide a college education to refugee students in need of job qualifications. Scalabrini has 150 students pursuing their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in healthcare management, communications, and business management. The average age of the student body is 35, and the majority of students are women. My duties as an intern are to help develop in-class workshops and lessons that coordinate with the online curriculum and being a peer tutor for students every evening during Cape Town time, which is the morning in New Jersey, where I’ll be spending the summer. I have been speaking with students over WhatsApp and what has struck me the most is their tenacity and intrinsic motivation to learn and improve themselves.

I think in America at times. We take our education for granted because it is pretty much guaranteed that we will all be educated in some capacity until we are 18. These students were guaranteed nothing but still found a way to persist and take on a college-level curriculum. I have spent much time in the past tutoring students who were not motivated to work or improve, but at Scalabrini, it is the exact opposite. Some of my students work full-time or are raising children while pursuing these rigorous degrees, and they never complain. They are so thankful for any help they are provided. For students in their 30’s and 40’s, I was initially worried that they would be skeptical of taking advice or help from a 21-year old. However, I was completely wrong. All of my students are always so grateful for my opinions and help. This project means so much to me because my grandma went to typing school after immigrating to the US from Guyana in the ’80s. Like many of my students, my grandma was in her 30’s with four children and only primary education. However, she used her resources to enroll in typing school, which eventually allowed her to have a professional job and send all her children to college. The impact my students’ hard work and determination has is beyond what they or I can ever imagine, and I’m so excited to help facilitate this journey for them as they improve their lives and the lives of their children. So far, there is not much unclear. Next week, I will start TA’ing for the in-person class portion of the curriculum. Due to the pandemic, classes will be held via Zoom and Google Classroom, and I will be teaching various topics from Experimenting in Psychology to Ensuring Healthcare Quality.

I look forward to reading my students’ works and seeing how their lives’ experiences influence their viewpoints and understanding of our curriculum. The most valuable aspect of the project to me is to share my experiences as an American college student and learn about my students’ lives, which span the entire continent of Africa. I probably would never have been able to gain the opportunity to learn about their lives if it was not for an opportunity like this.