Postcards from My Country

Postcards from My Country is a one-credit service learning course offered by the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. Postcards places mentors from the University of Maryland with teenagers at Northwestern High School. Over the course of the semester, the students at Northwestern work on producing poetry for Postcards from My Country Journal, under the supervision of their mentors and a Writers’ House staff member. This year, the program was conducted entirely after school (instead of during students’ English classes) and therefore, students were self-selected—they choose to come each week.

I was interested in the program, partly because of my own experience moving to Maryland eleven years ago and the role that writing has played in my life. Postcards seemed like a great opportunity to share both my immigrant and creative experiences with high school students. Although, I don’t think that I intended to share as much of myself with the kids as I have. On our first day of mentoring, we introduced ourselves to the students and assigned them a writing prompt. I reclined back in my seat and started to look around.

We work in an ESOL classroom tucked in a corner of Northwestern, decorated with words and phrases in English and Spanish. Their teacher has posted their new years’ resolutions on the back wall. A recurring theme is a desire from the students to learn English, to do well in school, to make new friends.

My casual observations this first day were interrupted by our supervising Writers’ House staff member, Jesse Freeman, letting the mentors know that we were also expected to work on the prompt with the students. Now, in all my altruistic calculations, it never once occurred to me that I would have to write poetry. When the time came to share with our small group, I found that I was more nervous than some of the students. However, I think that it made the experience all the more rewarding for them to see the mentors have to tackle the same prompts and big ideas. Ultimately, this helped to build camaraderie and to help the students perceive us as facilitators rather than “teachers”.

One day that I think I will as always remember was 3 or 4 weeks ago when Rebecca Roberts, our faculty liaison at Northwestern, came over to us and said bluntly, “Something bad happened in the ESOL hallway this week,”

She took a poster featuring a poem from last year’s journal, off her desk.

“So, you know, they had the superintendent visiting some of the ESOL classrooms. He came in here and I said to him, this is what we do in my classroom.”

Yes, I thought, this is what we do in Room 1116.

–Jihan Asher, Junior History Major

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