Service learning was an interesting concept for me to wrap my head around. At the beginning of the semester I was a little skeptical of the concept; work, family, school, and church obligations left me with almost no free time to occupy with anything else. I didn’t understand the purpose or reason behind making students into slaves of UVU! Luckily, my first experience with the refugees changed the way I thought about giving service and the people to whom I was giving service. My first experience with refugees was the basketball activity. I remember watching the refugee children arrive and feeling that awkward apprehension that comes with meeting people who are so different from us. I eventually made my way over to a group of young teenagers and struck up a conversation about soccer. I introduced myself, and apologized in advance for not being able to remember their names.
What stood out to me from the very beginning was the fact that I was dealing with people who were far different from my expectations. Sure, some of them didn’t speak English very well and had darker skin than I did, but through the broken conversations I was able to find so much in common with these kids. I made friends with two younger men, Aqueel and Sajad, and they were immediately fascinated that I drove an FJ Cruiser. They began to tell me about the FJ competitions that they hold in Iraq and Aqeel even showed me some pictures. They told me that Iraq was in a bad place right now, but that they were enjoying Utah. Above all, they missed their family and desired to return to a safe, peaceful Iraq.
My wife Shannon was able to accompany me to the service learning adventure and immediately made friends with some of the younger girls that I’d been trying to befriend all night. Every time I tried to talk with them throughout the day, they would give me one- or two-word answers to my questions or even ignore me; as soon as my wife came in they looked at her, made an expression of shock, and said, “You’re so pretty!” and were inseparable the rest of the night.
I’d say that one of the great takeaways from my time with the refugees was that many of them are just making the best of a bad situation. I can’t imagine having to leave Utah because of a threat to my life and, upon arriving in a foreign country for shelter, hearing things about my culture and country that weren’t true. Many times, throughout my service learning experience, I reassured the refugees that the words that come from President Trump’s mouth DO NOT echo the sentiment of many Utahns and Americans. Ignorance usually comes from a lack of exposure to other cultures, and the only way that America will be able to end the incorrect stereotypes and mental images of refugees is by giving service to them, getting to know them, and caring for them.
I am very appreciative of the opportunity that I was given to contribute to society and help those in need by giving service to the refugees of Utah. My eyes have been opened and my opinions and thoughts are definitely changed from the beginning of the semester. Truly, America and the world would be a better place if everyone were mandated to give service to those in need! I plan on giving service when I can, even after my academic career is done demanding it of me. I was told that they could use some help coaching some of the soccer teams up there, so I will hopefully be able to take advantage of that.