“A choice doesn’t have to be perfect to be the right one” — Emily Kyte ’17, taking on risks and redefining bounds, to make a difference in the lives of refugees.

June 22, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Emily Kyte clinic triageEmily Kyte ’17 (pictured kneeling) at a medical clinic in Jordan recording basic patient demographics in Arabic.

Emily Kyte ’17, a geography major and Arabic minor, left her comfort zone far behind to study abroad in Amman, Jordan this past spring semester. With support from Lynk-funding, she has taken on a new challenge this summer and is making a difference in the lives of refugees, working as an intern for Alhadaf, a non-profit in the Hashemite Kingdom that serves marginalized populations through education, training, psychosocial support services, and medical campaigns. So far this summer, she has designed and taught an ELL (English Language Learner) course for Iraqi refugees, worked with logistics and translation at a health clinic, and is helping to open a new community space for refugees. She writes to us from Jordan:

I started taking Arabic my first year of college. My "Arabic community" was the foundation to my community and finding my place/self at Mount Holyoke. The intensive, daily instruction gave me work ethic, and taught me to laugh at myself a little more and take more risks in all parts of my life. As a first-generation student (who would not be here without generous financial aid) from a nontraditional home structure, this was key to deciding to stay after a really challenging adjustment my first year. With an incredible degree of encouragement from Jordanians, Arabic speakers, and Arabic learners, quiet ideas turned into a reality. After lots of Facebook-stalking my Arab friends, YouTube videos, and "head-nods" from those who have lived in Jordan, my family approved of my decision. I am the first person in my family to ever really travel outside of the U.S., so this experience meant redefining bounds, meanings, and conceptions of the world for my entire family.

Amman_crI found out about Alhadaf through word-of-mouth (as most connections are made here), while living in Amman as a study abroad student. On my program, we intensively studied Arabic and each of us conducted a self-designed research project for the last month of the program (mine was “An Emotional-Educational Geography of Jordan’s Northern Badia Region in the Wake of the Syrian Refugee Crisis").

I wanted to leave Jordan having experienced as many sides of life as I could and having made myself as uncomfortable as possible. I lived with host families in Amman and in the Badia (a rural, culturally distinct region of the country), stayed with a Jordanian friend outside of Za'atari Camp, and traveled independently throughout the country. I have been a student, researcher, host sibling/child, intern, teacher, translator, and "mentee." Staying through the summer for me meant entering the Jordanian workplace, living independently, having the freedom to make choices for myself, and press myself to learn how to live without the support of a program. My Mount Holyoke community was with me from the moments of learning my first Arabic letter to dissuading me from hopping on the next plane home and calling off plans of an internship after a hard week. For me, being pressed to explain myself and my thought process, navigate life in my second language, ride through, and accept "I thought I knew a lot before coming here, but I don't know anything" moments on a daily basis has reaffirmed and changed me. I'm simply so much more capable of advocating for myself. The decision to stay despite having a challenging semester taught me to take from life, academics, work, and social experiences what I want. A choice doesn't have to be perfect to be the right one. I could have returned to the States and pursued an internship with a bigger name or following, but the discomfort and imperfections of working with a small non-profit in a complex social, political, and cultural environment made more sense for me.

healthclinic_crI am an intern for Alhadaf, which means that I get to be involved in a wide range of work in the tiny but far reaching non-profit, as well as lend my English/Arabic language skills and experiences. Alhadaf, an Emotional Trauma and Life Skills/Resources and Training Nonprofit registered in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is staffed and run by Jordanian women. Their target areas are education, training (training caregivers and trainers of caregivers of marginalized populations on the psychosocial aspects of their work), and health. There are only three staff members in the organization, so a normal day for me may very well include teaching my self-designed English class in the morning, buying supplies for a training or setting up a space, taking some pictures of an event, getting some Excel time in, and then proof reading English translations of grant documents. I was so fortunate to also be part of their annual health clinic. I acted as a clinic logistics translator, providing non-medical communication support for their three-day intensive clinic and medical campaign (serving Iraqi and Syrian refugees and Jordanians living in poverty). It has been challenging and validating to be so trusted and thrown into really essential aspects of the organization.

ELL_class_crAfter graduation, I would like to use my Arabic skills and serve with AmeriCorps in an org serving refugees, immigrants, and/or undocumented individuals. I have been thinking a lot about pursuing a Masters in social work (or maybe a dual MSW and law degree), but plan to take my time in AmeriCorps to think more seriously about what path makes the most sense for me. I had only worked with post-placement refugees in the States before. Alhadaf has allowed me to learn from them and navigate my own sensitive role in this "in limbo" step in the asylum seeker's process and the complex emotional and social layers of life at this moment. I LOVE how intentional Alhadaf is when forming relationships with those in asylum, actively pushing back against forming exploitative and dis-empowering relationships. I cannot express how incredibly privileged I feel to have been pressed to reevaluate and critique all that I thought I understood about my role and place within this system.

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