On Tuesday, Oct. 29, Hesston College Professor Kendra Burkey and her First Year Experience (FYE) speech students found themselves in new public speaking territory: A flourescent-lit church basement, sitting elbow-to-elbow with 12 Burmese refugees. Their speaking task? Teach the refugees, most of whom had only been in the U.S. a few weeks, how to survive in Wichita.
“To be able to pitch in at EWARM (Episcopal Wichita Area Refugee Ministry) and interact with the refugees was incredibly meaningful,” said Burkey. “But this experience was mutually beneficial. This was a real speaking context with real people who needed real information. You don’t get that authentic experience in the classroom.”
The session, which focused on finances, was part of a series of cultural orientation sessions led by three Hesston College FYE classes. Topics ranged from understanding prescription pill labels to opening a bank account.
“When I first heard that we were going to do this I didn’t know what to think,” Freshman Nick Mitchel said. “After hearing what we had to do I got excited and I was ready to help the refugees.”
Students received their topics two weeks prior to the event and got underway with their research and preparation. As the deadline grew closer the students gave mock presentations to gain experience and to practice the various conditions they were expecting.
“My team and I practiced two times before giving the actual presentation,” Freshman Ellise McGowan said. “I really wanted to be prepared so I did extra research just in case any of them had questions.”
After making the 30-minute trip to the EWARM facility the students packed the meeting room inside the church and gave their speeches. The sub-topics covered everything from banking to the evils of payday lenders.
But it wasn’t all business. Students talked with the refugees, colored with the children, and asked questions about their new lives in Wichita.
“I was extremely nervous at first, knowing that I haven’t even dealt with half the stuff that I was teaching those refugees,” McGowan said. “But once I got started and I met each of them, it a lot easier for me to go up there and give my speech and to have fun with it.”
At the very end of the session, two refugees volunteered to share their stories about their long, difficult journey to the U.S., fleeing their home country and spending up to 15 years in a Thai refugee camp before making it to Wichita.
“When we were done I felt that I had made a difference in their lives and they had made a difference in mine,” Mitchel said.