Oftentimes immigrants from faraway places only know about a place or people from movies or television, which can often be sources of stereotypes.
Participants in Jewish Child & Family Services Resettlement program received a valuable lesson courtesy of Barbara Urbanska-Yeager, herself an immigrant from Poland more than 20 years ago.
Urbanska-Yeager teaches a unique curriculum in JCFS’ Refugee Resettlement program. In addition to language learning, the class also provides additional support such as life skills education, socialization and acculturation in order to prepare for citizenship.
Several months ago, Barbara’s ESL class had a very heated discussion regarding African Americans. She observed her students expressing what she characterized as “prejudiced opinions,” which was somewhat ironic as many of the students had recently fled ethnic and religious oppression. Urbanska-Yeager felt that the class would benefit from a trip to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
Prior to the field trip, Urbanska-Yeager went to the museum to meet the docent who was going to conduct the ESL class’ tour. She wanted the class to be educated on the significant milestones in African American history.
Urbanska-Yeager said the field trip was a huge success. The students “absolutely loved” the docent, a young African-American man. They actively participating in conversations with him and asked several questions. The interaction between the students and the young man was “touching and it was clear that the positive experience with a young African American man was helpful to them” she said.
Afterwards, the class and Urbanska-Yeager had a discussion and a review of what they had seen. One student, who had expressed particularly strong opinions, said “I understood better now how the history has affected African Americans, how difficult it must have been for them to be uprooted and disconnected from their families when they came here as slaves. I now have a better sense of how difficult slavery must have been for them and how that experience impacted future generations.”
The lesson learned from this experience? As Urbanska-Yeager put it, “I didn’t expect this trip would change their opinions, but was hoping it might help them be open to a new point of view. This is exactly what happened.”
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS Chicago) has been a leader in the community, helping people through the immigration process. For information, call 312-357-4666, or for general counseling and support from JCFS, call toll-free 855-ASK-JCFS (855-275-5237).