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College of Education

Dorcas' Message for Teachers

Dorcas, a high school newcomer student who is featured in the film, shares some important thoughts for teachers (additional video not in the documentary film):


So we're here at Wichita North and this is Dorcas, a senior, 19 years old and originally from Congo. She and her family ended up in South Africa when she was 12 years old, getting away from some tough times in Congo. Dorcas has been really helpful to us, helping us understand that high school students really need a little help in processing what they're listening to, that learning to read and write aren't that difficult for all of the newcomer students but it –and it's the easier of the three – but listening and really processing what they're listening to can be pretty difficult. I asked Dorcas, do you like to be called a newcomer student or a refugee student? And she said either. And then I said… what did I say after that? Do you just want to be called a student, right? Yeah… But, as a student here at Wichita North High School, you have experienced a lot in your 19 years of life. And Dorcas I know that we have students here in the United States that have been through really difficult things too - with their families or their life. Difficulty exists everywhere. But in the United States it's pretty safe to say that the students here haven't been in a war. They haven't had to flee from where they live because of politics or fighting or serious health epidemics or things like that.

I've been a teacher for over 25 years and I think it's really important for our teachers in our big schools and our little schools in the United States to understand that students like yourself that have come from another country like you have, like Congo, have experienced some real difficult moments in their life and used it in class here at the high school by students who haven't had to flee from danger or learn a new language just so they could live somewhere else and leave their home. Talk to me a little bit about what do you think teachers need to know about our newcomer students, our refugee students, students – just students like you?

I think teachers should know that it's important that they're speaking a little more different. Because for me I learned that the teachers who – like impacting with you – can learn a new language because me, and I like… the teacher that I had in South Africa will come to my house even to talk my father about how to improve my English, how to write it. And sometimes you even come in with a dictionary. At the time that my father was in South Africa we didn't have a phone that time, so he would come off a phone and then translate whatever I want to say to me to his phone and then say things so I hear it. It was not fun but it helped with that at the time.

Okay, and do you think it's important for your teachers here at the school to develop a friendly relationship with you and know about your life. Is that important to you? They need to encourage like – oh that teacher still like want me to improve in this or that – then like who inspire yourself always to go to school because that teacher still working for us. Okay, so you're motivated by a teacher who cares about you. Yes. Why do you think that is? Because I also had a teacher who would come to my house and say, Dorcas you can do this. You can learn this language because you have to learn like five more the road to get here, so you can still learn this much. You know I also think I'll add to that, because we're human beings, right? And we aren't all just work, work, work. People are relational. People need to care about other people and people need to know they're cared about. Yes. Do you think refugee students need to know that more than other students? Oh yeah. Why? Because like, women like motivation because we – for me I remember – a teacher that I met that where I was going to apply for school. She is still my friend even now. I never wanted to go to school in the United States but she like, when they tell me – does she still need to go to school? You're still young. Even today whenever she sees me, she reminds me of everything that I told her on the first day. Mmm, that's, that's really nice. You know, I have students that I've had for 25 years that I've stayed in touch with, or that I know that crossing paths with me in their life or them being in my life changed both of us for the better.

Do you ever – so I think what I'm curious about is – did the experiences you had in Congo and South Africa, that the difficult experiences there, do they ever bubble to the surface of your memories here? Do you ever have a day when you remember too much? Oh yeah. How do you, how do you pull out of that and smile again? Oh, I just quit the remember and tell myself, do you remember the times you went through in South Africa? Well, someday I will go there in South Africa and show them what I've made out of myself, and help some of the students that are there – that are refugees – and help them to pass through whatever I've just went through. I think that's an important thing too, about being a human being, is that we pass on what we've learned and we help those that come behind us. Yeah, all right, I'm glad you shared your story with us.

Journey to Refuge ebook cover

Download the eBook at New Prairie Press

Published April 2019

Recommended Citation: Harlow, Trina D., "Journey to Refuge: Understanding Refugees, Exploring Trauma, and Best Practices for Newcomers and Schools" (2019). NPP eBooks. 26. https://newprairiepress.org/ebooks/26

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

See the full Refuge in the Heartland documentary

For more information about the eBook or film, please contact Dr. Trina Harlow, Book Editor and Film Co-Director, at drtrinaharlow@gmail.com.