Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Together- From one mentor to the other.

February 17, 2010 · 2 Comments

(New Routes logo)

“Life is an exam.”

My mentee refers to life as an exam which we must prepare for in order to pass; these are the words he leaves me with as we walk away from one another after our weekly meeting. Bekre, is a young inspiring individual, a refugee from Ethiopia and an aspiring intellectual.

Since last term, Bekre and I have been meeting up at the Forum once a week, our usual routine includes a cappuccino, four sugars and an hour and a half of ‘life-talk.’ We start of by summing up the week, that usually gives us enough to ramble about for quite some time. As he speaks of his adventures, I take mental notes and ask away in regards to particular details. During my mentor training at New Routes Mentoring Center, I learned about the different ways in which we can ask questions in order to expand/sustain a conversation, so I put my skills to practice with him. The first time we met, I remember being way too conscious of the questions I was taught, robotically, in fear of awkwardness or unnecessary moments of silence, I kept asking him questions. I wanted him to find a friend in my voice and comfort in my words. After our first meeting, comfort was the least of my concerns, I’m sure he would agree that ‘we were off to a great start!’

New Routes’ motto states: “Finding ways to achieve together,” and as my relationship with Bekre has progressed, this is exactly what my weekly meetings have been about. Every week we think of a new goal, something he would like to accomplish by the next time we meet; sometimes he makes me tell him my own goals for the week. We later converse about our goals, what took to achieve it and how we overcame any challenges. Even though, we have been learning from each other, sometimes I find myself contemplating the things I want him to learn, since week after week he seems to be the teacher of me (as opposed to vise versa). He has made me aware of the personal struggles he has endured as an Ethiopian refugee in the UK, opening my eyes to a subject I had no previous knowledge of before coming here. He faces obstacles common to refuges and asylum seekers in Norwich, and also problems affecting thousands around the world.

According to our Mentoring Project Training Manual, which seeks “To challenge some common myths through giving some facts, and encouraging participants to reflect on the reality of being an asylum seeker/refugee,” the U.K. receives numerous annual applications for asylum seeker/refugee status. As defined by the manual, an asylum seeker is someone who has left his/her country, is asking for another country’s protection and wants to await refugee status recognition in the country of application. With this said, a refugee is not the same as a “migrant worker” (someone who fleeds to another country in search of work), which is one of the myths associated with asylum seekers. However, a refugee can seek work, unlike asylum seekers who receive a weekly stipend of roughly £35.18 (single adult, over 18) (National Asylum Support Service; 2009). During the long training process we were told many statistics, watched a video and had long discussions on the current economic, social and political status of refugees in Norwich, yet this only touched the surface.

This semester, I am choosing to write my term research paper on the challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers in the city of Norwich. I am eager to learn, so that I can share with Bekre the history of people, who like him, came to the UK in search of shelter. He has taught me so much already and I want to teach him something he will always remember— in this world, we are never alone, and if we are then, we are together in that too.

Categories: Flow

2 responses so far ↓

  •   hankreas12 // Feb 19th 2010 at 19:09

    Flow, this seems very similar to the Dreamcatchers program at Dickinson. That’s great that you are getting a chance to do this here as well. I’m interested to hear about Asylum Seekers in Norwich and how their assimilation into English society is progressing. That’s wonderful that Bekre has someone like you to talk to. I’m sure you learn a lot from him as well.

  •   Karl // Feb 21st 2010 at 10:05

    What a great experience. Not only are you forging a relationship with someone, you are learning how to be a better mentor through practice. This will be a great skill as you move forward. I’m glad you landed with such a good organization.

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