From the time they touch down in the US, the clock has begun to tick. In the first month they are vaccinated, tested, and retested for diseases I’ve only heard about in Biology lectures. They go from specialist to specialist in hopes of being properly diagnosed and treated for the many chronic, infectious, and mental health conditions that they’ve probably contracted after spending up to 20 years in refugee camps. By month four we can all but hope they are healthy enough to work and find a job, because by that time NSC can no longer afford to pay the rent on their apartments. All this leads up to the inevitable eight-month finish line, where they are no longer eligible for Refugee Health Insurance and must purchase their own. Oh, and if that’s not enough of a challenge, from day one most of the refugees cannot read, write, or speak any English.
So clearly, understanding is extremely important in my position. I find myself waiting for the universal “Ah-Ha” moment on their faces after pantomiming telephone numbers. I constantly have to remind myself not to fall for that horrible logic that simply repeating the same word louder will definitely make it more understandable. Then they look at you and say what I’m almost sure is “I have no idea what this tall skinny kid is saying but he sure looks funny.” Whoever said that communication was mostly nonverbal has never tried to explain deductibles without using words. But then it comes – the point of understanding. I’ve been sitting there for 5 minutes trying to explain, “come back next Tuesday” and dreading having to call back the phone line interpreter, when all of a sudden they nod their head and say “Tuesday!” I try to fight the urge to grab hands and jump in circles chanting Tuesday.
It’s getting easier though, and after the first few days I began finding words that most of my clients know. Now, I am starting to realize that certain groups excel or have trouble at understanding certain concepts. It’s actually quite ironic in that the more I understand the people and the cultures I am helping, the more it helps me become understood. I imagine this is what National Health Corps is really all about. By performing our service, we are not only becoming more aware of the problems faced by so many people in the US, but we are also building a foundation in which we can actually address and solve these problems more effectively in our futures.
Name: Jarett Beaudoin
Position: Refugee Health Associate, Nationalities Service Center
Degree: Global Politics and Economics, University of Tennessee
Why did you join the Health Corps: To gain an understanding of the different social and health-related problems in the US.
Favorite thing about Philly: The Museums!