CARECEN| Penelope Buchter

My name is Penelope Buchter and I am a student in the School of International Service.  Over the past semester I have been working with the Central American Resource Center, more commonly referred to as CARECEN.  The organization is an incredible resource to the Latin American community in DC, and one of its main offerings is classes, tutoring, and resources aimed at helping people pass the citizenship test.

In my time at CARECEN I have had the opportunity to see people work their way towards citizenship.  I have been able to sit in on English and Civics classes and see people who are truly working hard to become productive members of our society.  So in my time there I have worked on a number of projects from archiving, to writing resources, which has been my favorite project so far.

When I got to CARECEN on my first day, I had no idea what I would be doing, and I was a little bit worried, because my Spanish is very rusty, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to contribute as much as I had hoped.  Luckily, my Spanish was enough to get by helping people sign in for the party that was happening at the time.  After that, things slowed down and I have had the great privilege to help develop some new resources for the ESL classes.

Throughout my time there, I have written some scripts and recorded several practice dialogues that the students can listen to, follow along with, and answer questions about to help familiarize themselves with the questions and vocabulary for the citizenship interview.  What surprised me the most about this project is the fact that people had requested it.  The students in these classes are not truly committed to learning the material and trying to pass the interview.

All too often, people think of immigrants as people who are lazy and just want to come to America for an easy life.  But the truth is that many people come here from countries where they are well respected people with college degrees and well paying jobs, and they give that up to come and work for construction companies and cleaning agencies; they struggle to learn a new language; they work hard to balance jobs and overcome prejudices.  They are committed people with a great work ethic, the desire to learn, and the drive to become productive members of our society.  Unfortunately, English is sometimes the only thing that holds them back.

I have been so thankful for this experience.  I have met some amazing people and heard some incredible stories.  It feels like a team success or a team failure when we find out someone’s citizenship results because we are surrounded by a team of people who truly care and want to see others succeed.  I am proud to be able to say that I’ve worked with CARECEN, and I feel blessed to be able to contribute to a curriculum that is helping people work hard and hopefully succeed in overcoming language barriers to become productive U.S. citizens.

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