By Waldy Diez SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – More than 12,000 refugees and former refugees call Syracuse home. About 1,000 new refugees resettle in the city each year. Many of them live on the city’s north side.
Many have struggled to acclimate to American culture, but have found solace at the North Side Learning Center, where refugees learn English and American culture.
Retired Syracuse City School District teachers and volunteers from the Syracuse University Program for Refugee Assistance, or SUPRA, teach the classes. In addition to ESL classes, the students have learned about the American court system. Some students have even been studying to take the Naturalization Test.
The teachers and volunteers enjoy their time with the refugees. Bob Dean has been volunteering at the NSLC for almost two years.
“I think it’s very rewarding,” Dean said. “I’ve traveled extensively; I was in Brazil in the Peace Corps a number of years ago, and I learned a foreign language. I realized how difficult it is to learn English. I want to help in any way that I can to help other people learn English.”
Each semester, SUPRA and the NSLC teach about 100 refugees from various countries including Bhutan, Congo, India, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Vietnam.
Vu Nguyen has been living in Syracuse for about two years. He left Vietnam with his family a few years ago as a political refugee. He has been studying English at the NSLC for about a year and a half.
Nguyen came to America because he wanted a better education for his 13-year-old daughter, Dung.
“Everything I think just only for my daughter. To go to school because everybody knows America has really good schools,” Nguyen said.
When he first came to Syracuse, he was afraid to go out because he didn’t know the language. He is happy with the progress he has made so far.
“I feel better,” Nguyen said. “Now I can go to the supermarket, or I go somewhere, or I can do something.”
He really appreciates the way his teachers approach the learning process.
“My teacher is for me, easy learning, and I can understand anything he teaches for me,” Nguyen said.
“Just the welcome every people come here. I’m very happy to learn North Side Learning Center.”