America’s Welcome Committee

Jun 13, 2012

Today’s guest post is written by Aditi Srinivasan, speaker at our National Conference of Volunteering and Service in Chicago and Volunteer Coordinator at Upwardly Global.

As a volunteer coordinator, I am consistently impressed by the passion and devotion of some of my volunteers. More than anything, it is their empathy that touches me. American professionals attend our workshops to help skilled immigrants from around the world write a resume or practice interviewing so that they can contribute their talent and skills to our economy. They seek a volunteer opportunity where they can make a difference and also learn something new themselves. When a refugee who has fled his homeland first meets a volunteer who treats him as a professional equal, you can see the hope return. Finally someone sees him for who he really is: a doctor, an engineer or a teacher looking to regain their career.

At each workshop, the volunteer in turn gets to take a journey to another country, learning about what the workplace culture is like there through the eyes of the job seeker they work with. They learn about the differences – for example, one simply does not make eye contact in Nigeria, where it’s considered intrusive – but they also learn about the similarities. I asked one of my volunteers, Jane, to tell me about her experience and she said:

“I had just seen the Iranian film “A Separation” when I worked with Ehsan, an immigrant from Iran. Film is a passion of mine so of course I took the opportunity to discuss the film. We had the most interesting discussion about life in Iran, its culture, the role of religion in everyday life, the legal system, divorce and other themes the film touched on. We laughed about the similarities and probed each other on the differences. “

I think that many seek out volunteering opportunities as a way to grow personally, as the experience fosters introspection, whether it makes us more grateful for what we have, or challenges our assumptions. In many ways, it’s like traveling, as it expands your horizons each time, as Michael, a volunteer, expresses here:

“Once a week I get to take a brief international trip, no passport required. Volunteering with Upwardly Global, I’ve had the chance to meet new immigrants from many different parts of the world and help them prepare for American interviews, and as a bonus, I’m invited briefly into their world. Like traveling, it’s not what you expect to see that stands out, it’s the little things you were not expecting that leave a lasting impression. I enjoy the interplay between the familiar and the novel, the universal humanity in all cultures, and differences in manners and customs.”

We think of our volunteers as America’s welcoming committee. They are friends and professional colleagues who provide hope, encouragement and kindness when an immigrant is feeling lost in an unfamiliar world.

Join Jane and Michael and learn about other cultures as you help someone rebuild their professional career by volunteering with Upwardly Global. Click here to learn more about Upwardly Global.

Aditi Srinivasan is the Volunteer Coordinator at Upwardly Global, a nonprofit organization that moves high-skilled immigrants from un- or underemployment back into their professional careers in the U.S. workforce. Aditi will be co-presenting a session on Volunteerism and Economic Development at the Points of Light National Conference on Volunteering and Service.