Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Kasia Kovacs Reflects on Service-Learning at JVS

Kasia Kovacs, a graduating senior in Oxbride Literature and Theory with a minor in French reflects upon her service-learning experience at the Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City.

The days, hours, and moments before the end of an era make up one of the most bizarre sensations a person can experience. In some instances, they creep up on you, slowly and menacingly, as you attempt to stop time and stay in once place in a manner of determined defiance. These, for instance, were my sentiments during my few weeks of my year abroad in Cambridge, England; I simply refused to believe that my stay in the UK would end, but time cruelly snatched me back into reality.  In other instances, you are in total awareness of the impending end, but you are so wrapped up in your work and commitments that you lose all sense of time entirely. You sleep when you can—maybe a few hours in the afternoon and perhaps you can fit in half an hour before your nine-o-clock class (that is, if you manage to actually wake up to your blaring alarm)—and your meals become so sporadic that cooking a full pasta dinner at two in the morning is nothing strange. Suddenly, it is the last Friday of finals, and your to-do list still spills over into two pages of your planner.
Wait, is graduation tomorrow? you wonder, in utter shock that your undergraduate career is ending with this astounding speed. And it is, and once again time has the last laugh.

This was my last semester of college. I committed myself to far too many responsibilities, and suddenly the imminent deadlines from both my internships and William Jewell’s newspaper began to interfere with precious study time for my Oxbridge comprehensive exams, among attempts to juggle and keep up with my regular classes. Naturally, when I was told that I could achieve a French minor if I took four credit hours of independent study in the language, I thought it would be a terrible opportunity to miss—and I signed right up.  (Clearly, I live in denial that there are only 24 hours in a day.)

Furthermore, I don’t regret it.

I volunteered at an organization called Jewish Vocational Service, which is not, as it may sound, a rabbi-training program. JVS in Kansas City works with refugees from developing countries ridden with violence and civil war as they assimilate and become self-sustaining individuals and families in the United States. I had hoped to speak with some French-speaking refugees from francophone African countries, but these immigrants were far and few in between. Thus, my role was generally limited to office work. I worked with files and worked on grant proposals through research and writing. Both of these tasks taught me about international policies that were previously completely unknown to me.

Refugees come to the United States in search of asylum from their poverty- and war- stricken nations, from west Asian countries, African nations, the Middle East, and Cuba. These refugees often come from camps, where they apply to come to the United States. Once they have arrived in Kansas City, JVS places them in an apartment and provides a temporary financial allowance (well, a loan) for three months as the refugees search for jobs and enroll their children in school. After three months, the refugees would ideally begin to pay back the loans and save money to begin to become self-sufficient. Yet several are unable to find jobs… and when they do, the positions are generally in factories or custodial service, which is understandably disconcerting for refugees with higher education, and these positions lack a sense of dignity when they do not allow for many advancement opportunities. Eventually, if the refugees cannot begin to pay back their loans after an extension, they are sent back to their home country.

As I was sorting through files, I read about several of these cases, and I came to the following conclusion: Although I believe that the United States’ involvement in refugee services is admirable, the system must be refunded and reorganized. Historically, the States have been a nation composed of immigrants—and these refugees surely have many talents and ideas to offer to our country if they are given the chance and a proper education.

So you see, although organizing my time this semester was near impossible, I still grew as a student and a human. My liberal arts degree has taught me to think critically in any situation, particularly as an informed and responsible citizen of the global community. Thus, when I was thrust into an occupation with which I was completely unfamiliar (read: refugee volunteer), I was still able to participate with the approach informed by an eagerness to learn, though with a perceptive and analytical eye.

Thank you William Jewell College, and thank you Dr. Myers.

And thank you for reading.

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