Frank Meng | CIIP 2023 Blog Portfolio
Posted: July 5, 2023
Wow. The orientation week is done for the second time, but this time, as a peer mentor.
Let me tell you, it’s been a whirlwind of events, chock-full of enlightening sessions, soul-stirring discussions, and good-natured banter with my mentees, fellow peer mentors, and the incredible support staff. The schedule has been jam-packed, I won’t lie, but every single day, I rise with a sense of anticipation, eager to dive deeper into the lives of my peers, explore the colorful communities of Baltimore, and take a good, hard look at my own identities.
I love my mentees—they are all talented, bright, and have so much potential to grow. The process of acquainting myself with my group and fellow cohort members was a gentle nudge that reinforced the idea that I am a people person, and I am able to flourish in a leadership role.
In the midst of forging connections with my fellow peer mentors and the randomized group, I discovered the immense satisfaction that accompanies the art of building new relationships.
My mom always quotes this Chinese proverb when I was little because I did not like to watch/read the same book twice: constantly seeing, constantly renewing. It highlights the idea of continuous learning and staying open to new experiences. Case in point, the workshops, albeit hearing them for the second time (and giving the Allyship presentation for the second time), all, again, have the wondrous effect of exposing me to a new perspective. Each day, as I scooter back to the Academy, wearied yet genuinely content, I couldn’t help but feel a bubbling excitement for what the next day would bring, and a trove of musings waiting to be pondered.
Nevertheless, I must confess that being a peer mentor, and by extension, the added responsibility did occasionally divert my attention from fully immersing myself in every activity.
I will conclude with a similar statement as last summer: Embrace confusion, embrace vulnerability, leverage privilege, be prepared to change, and dare to challenge the norms.
“What keeps people going? Betty and I attended the second Baltimore Immigration Organizations Community Meeting, facilitated by MIMA (shout out to Estelle). I had been assigned to the Organizational Capacity Building group, even though I had just started this job two weeks ago. Despite my limited experience, the meeting proved to be extremely informative. One major theme that was discussed was the “double barriers” faced by undocumented immigrants: healthcare access and language access. Based on my first day’s experience, I realized that being an asylum seeker without American insurance is really tough. Moreover, not being able to speak English without an interpreter is even more challenging. Even for hospitals that accept non-English speakers, they mostly require them to act as their own interpreters. One of the members talked about prioritizing language as its own category, a notion I wholeheartedly agreed with. Additionally, Betty informed me that she and two other individuals are the only leaders who have been in these non-profits for over ten years because supporting their families is simply so hard (and they experience burnout, of course).
Another significant event this week was our annual Silent Auction. I can’t recall how many donation descriptions I wrote throughout the week or how many times we edited the program, but it turned out to be a great success. We had the privilege of inviting two Afghan artists, and one of their paintings, “Shout,” resonated with me deeply. It depicted the struggles of refugees fleeing a country that doesn’t necessarily want them. Working behind the scenes, I once again realized how much planning and energy goes into a three-hour event to ensure everything goes smoothly.
One last thing that struck me was how much there is to learn about immigration and refugees, as well as their lived experiences. Academic papers can NEVER capture the whole picture or the nuanced life experiences and hardships they endure. Although ERICA doesn’t directly correlate with my thesis, it has given me a whole new perspective on immigrants’ lives. It’s like entering a whole new world.”
I wish I could give a clear answer that describes my day-to-day life. I simply cannot, because refugees do not live on a perfectly planned schedule. This complexity and uncertainty are inherent in working with immigrants.
I could be in the office, researching which hospitals in Baltimore are refugee- or uninsured-friendly.
I could be in the office, assisting a refugee who had to flee her home country due to political unrest. She almost finished medical school and needs help fixing her resume and applying to community college, trying to start over in this “land of the free.”
I could be in the office, drafting and editing the display sheet for the annual auction. Securing funding for non-profit organizations is challenging, so this event is crucial.
I could be out and about, taking the aforementioned refugee on a college tour.
I could be out and about, helping a pregnant woman move out of her dorm. The school has forced her to leave during the summer, just three days before her due date.
I could be out and about, collaborating with legal aid organizations to provide pro bono assistance to refugees and immigrants navigating the complex legal system.
I could be out and about, translating an English-only form for an asylum seeker who does not speak English. Unfortunately, the federal government lacks inclusivity.
I could be out and about, attending a conference where only three attendees have been working with refugees and immigrants for more than five years. This work is physically and mentally challenging.
I could be out and about, volunteering at a local church that offers assistance and shelter to refugees and immigrants.
I could be out and about, advocating for policy changes at the local, national, or international level to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for refugees and immigrants.
The reality is that working with immigrants and refugees is multifaceted because individuals have different needs and diverse lived experiences. In this dynamic world, a predictable day-to-day routine becomes elusive.
In the Church Office-turned-living room, Sahil, a resilient sixteen-year-old Afghan refugee, spoke with a gleam of hope in his eyes. Before their arduous journey to Iran, Sahil was a diligent tenth grader with an affinity for mathematics and the sciences, fueled by a desire to forge a prosperous future as either a computer scientist or an engineer. When I inquired about following in his father’s footsteps as a tailor, he emphatically dismissed the idea, yearning for a different path.
Sporting a youthful smile, Sahil shared his fondness for soccer, a game that served as a bonding activity with his brother. Recently, he had embarked on a fitness journey, eager to sculpt a healthier version of himself. Sensing his curiosity, I suggested he explore Instagram fitness builders and coaches, where he might find valuable free lessons to guide him along his path.
Our conversation meandered toward the traditions Sahil held dear. With a touch of pride, he spoke of the sacredness of fasting during Ramadan, a period when he and his family would abstain from food and drink from the early morning hours until dusk. Rising before the break of dawn–right before 3 am–they would partake in a modest meal to fortify themselves for the day’s challenges, only to reunite around the dinner table after the sun had bid its farewell. Sahil noted that while pork remained off-limits, he relished other meats such as beef and turkey.
Sahil bravely detailed his extraordinary 43-day trek to the United States-Mexico boarder, following two years in Iran and Brazil. After spending two years in Iran and Brazil, his family embarked on a grueling forty-three-day odyssey that spanned treacherous jungles and merciless deserts. They traversed treacherous terrain on foot, robbed of rest for a staggering forty-eight hours. Along the way, they fell prey to the clutches of Mexican mafia, who mercilessly extorted them for money, casting shadows of uncertainty and fear. Sahil’s eyes, though burdened with tales of sorrow, emanated a spark of resilience, for he emerged victorious. Through countless bus rides, weary footsteps, and relentless determination, they eventually reached the US-Mexico border. Leveraging his technical prowess, Sahil secured an appointment with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which culminated in a life-changing moment for his family-an approval that granted them passage to Baltimore, where they now sought refuge.
Over a simple lunch, the language of mathematics bridged the gap between cultures as I shared English notations with Sahil, unveiling a world where numbers transcend boundaries. Grateful for the exchange, Sahil reciprocated by imparting a significant facet of his faith: Muslims, like himself, abstain from consuming alcohol, finding solace in a path that nurtures their spirits and bodies alike.
As the interview drew to a close, Sahil’s resilience and unwavering determination cast a luminous shadow upon the pages of his fledgling American journey. In his youthful gaze, one could glimpse the flicker of a future where dreams, nurtured by the promise of education and ambition, dared to flourish amidst adversity. Sahil’s story stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit that lies within those who endure, reminding us all of the remarkable strength that can emerge from the crucible of hardship.
This week was relatively light in terms of fieldwork as our focus shifted towards wrapping up the Auction event. Our main tasks involved sending out thank-you notes to express our gratitude and drafting the satisfaction survey for the upcoming 2022-23 period. Little did I know that while editing the thank-you note, I would come to realize that I had never created a mail template or engaged in traditional letter writing, considering email as the preferred alternative. This realization served as a valuable learning curve, highlighting the shift in communication practices in today’s digital age. As email has become the norm, the art of drafting and mailing letters has taken a backseat. However, this experience taught me the significance of having a well-crafted mail template to streamline and personalize correspondence.
Working at ERICA has had a profound impact on my scholarly pursuits, not only in terms of the subjects I want to study but also in how I approach research and ideological concepts. The experience of serving refugees has made me critically reflect on my own privilege and has caused me to reevaluate the type of scholarship I wish to contribute to the field of sociology of immigration. Moreover, working at ERICA has prompted me to reconsider the role of scholarship in addressing social inequalities and advocating for justice. It has reminded me of the importance of using research as a tool for social change, highlighting systemic issues and promoting a more inclusive and equitable society. By engaging with the realities of refugees and grappling with their experiences, I have been inspired to explore research avenues that challenge dominant narratives, question power structures, and strive for a more just and compassionate world.
My time at ERICA has allowed me to step outside the confines of theoretical frameworks and engage with the lived realities of those affected by immigration.
This week I want to talk about my supervisor Betty.
participants provides a compelling and heartening narrative of the exceptional impact that ERICA, under the guidance of its charismatic leader Betty, has had on the lives of those seeking support. As Max Weber claims, organizations need a charismatic leader, by nature law or divine will, to break the “iron cage” of bureaucratic restraints. Betty embodies this charismatic leadership, making ERICA stand out as a beacon of hope and transformation.
The 100% overall satisfaction rate among beneficiaries speaks volumes about the effectiveness and quality of ERICA’s assistance. As one beneficiary passionately expressed, “I am so grateful for ERICA. It has been my support, always!” Betty’s charismatic leadership style has fostered an atmosphere of trust, compassion, and genuine care, as another beneficiary eloquently shared, “She is my mom. I love Betty. I think it’s awesome that you guys take in people and take care of them.”
The fact that 100% of participants feel very welcomed demonstrates the exceptional interpersonal skills and warmth exhibited by Betty and the ERICA team. As one beneficiary joyfully remarked, “I always wish Ms. Betty the best. She treats me very well, takes me to the hospital, and even pays for my school. She is great, got me a lawyer, which is working. This coming Friday I will be moving to a new house.” Betty’s charismatic nature radiates throughout the organization, making beneficiaries feel like they are part of a caring community rather than mere recipients of aid.
In conclusion, the data presents a powerful narrative of how ERICA, with Betty as the backbone, has broken through bureaucratic constraints to provide unwavering support and care to those in need. The high satisfaction, feeling of welcome, and unanimous recommendation are a testament to Betty’s exceptional leadership and the organization’s commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of its beneficiaries. With Betty at the helm, ERICA continues to shine as a beacon of hope and transformation, offering essential support that uplifts and empowers those it serves.