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St. Michael's students help refugees adjust to American life - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

St. Michael's students help refugees adjust to American life

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COLCHESTER, Vt. -

Refugees from around the globe learning to adjust to American life are getting some help from Vermont college students.

English is just one of the many new things Adhieu is learning since coming to the United States from south Sudan 6 months ago. 

"Well first when she got here, she'd never experienced snow so we took her to get some boots and that was interesting cause they were clunky and she wasn't having it," said Maria Rengucci, a St. Michael's student.

Rengucci became Adhieu's Conversation Partner, a program that started at the Community College of Vermont to help refugee students from around the world assimilate to American life and has since expanded to St. Michael's College. 

"We use workbooks and flashcards, and we teach English and math and we have conversations, we talk about our families," said Rengucci.

And they cook together. Adhieu shows Maria how to make an authentic Sudanese dish similar to pancakes. 

Tuipate Mubiay, a refugee of the Congo and creator of Conversation Partners, says many refugees come to America with no friends, family or connections. It's an overwhelming experience that can often lead to loneliness and isolation.

But with the help of their Conversation Partner they are not alone. 

"It's different from a mentoring, from coaching; it's about the friendship, it's about building the relationship," said Mubiay

And when St. Michael's Anthropology professor Adrie Kusserow began integrating Conversation Partners into her class requirements last year, she quickly realized that her students were not in it for just the grade.

"Even after the course has ended, there's number of them who still are in a lot of contact with the conversation partner who they were assigned and thats amazing," Kusserow said. 

Will Cote and Joyce Ajah are a pair that have developed a lasting friendship beyond the classroom.

"Trusting someone from a different country, a different world and it's just been like we grew up together," said Ajah.

And for them, the learning goes both ways. Ajah says she has been trying to teach Cote her native language Swahili.

Ajah: Every time we meet, so I try to teach him.

Cote: And French is my first language for me so I try to teach her sometimes.

Ajah: So we do the same thing.

With these acts of friendship home is not so far away.

If you are interested in becoming a Conversation Partner contact the click here.

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