Global Interests, Local Work: An AmeriCorps Experience
By Claire Cooper
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt
When I decided to move back to the United States after living abroad for three years, I was skeptical that my passion for cultural exploration, foreign language, ESL teaching, and diverse empowerment work could be satisfied by employment I’d find in America. While abroad, I’d developed these passions into skills – developing communication, teaching, mentoring, and entrepreneurial skills for a cross-cultural environment – and I didn’t want to allow them to fade.
Thus, I was thrilled to have to opportunity to join the Refugee and Immigrant Student Empowerment afterschool program and the Center for Refugees and Immigrants Tennessee as a 2014-2015 AmeriCorps member. Through this position I’ve been able to continue to teach and mentor students, support empowerments activities, and learn about the vast cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity of the student body in Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Students in the RISE program range from second-generation immigrants from Mexico to newly resettled Somali and Karen refugees. The needs of the at-risk youth in our program are diverse and unique due to their international backgrounds. Thus, while our program has naturally sought to support them in English language acquisition and academic achievement, we’ve also striven to support development of their cross-cultural adaptability, personal resiliency and self-direction, and physical and emotional health.
Now, my service is coming to a close, and next year I will pursue my international and community development interests through continued studies in a Masters of Public Health in Global Health/Epidemiology at Vanderbilt University.
As I’ve reflect on how my year with AmeriCorps has changed my professional and personal aims, I’ve realized that my concept of what improving the health of the global community looks like has broadened and deepened. For one, I no longer feel that I must work internationally to be of service to high-need, culturally diverse communities. There is much work yet to be done at home. Secondly, I more deeply understand how complex public health concerns are - neither confined by national borders, nor constrained to medical concerns, extending instead to systematic justice issues like education inequality and violence.
Going forward, I will always keep in mind what I’ve learned from my students, AmeriCorps supervisor, and my co-members: that were are a wealth of ways one can meet global needs with what we have, where we are.