International Studies Major Lauren Koch Welcomes Families into Indianapolis Community

Through Lauren Koch’s internship with Catholic Charities Indianapolis Refugee and Immigrant Service, she was able to teach Burmese, Syrian, Myanmar families and individuals English through classes and in-home tutoring.

Lauren, a junior International Studies major, also picked refugees up from the airport, set up doctor appointments, helped individuals place phone calls, and acted as an Arabic-English interpreter.

This experience helped her gain a real sense of humanity, and realize that everyone is relevant to someone. Lauren witness many moments that were purely human.

“I saw families having meals with friends, but also conversations with a forty-five-year-old about how he often can feel alone. I have seen a girl steal her sister’s food and get into arguments, but I also saw them hug,” Lauren said.

“I saw so many emotions and situations that people were dealing with and they change every hour, every day. But I have felt all these emotions before, even if I use a different combination of letters to describe the feeling. These people grew up in different communities, but spending so much time with them let me see all the different emotions that make me and them the same; all these different emotions bond us as humans.”

She also learned how to adapt to new scenarios. She learned to offer the same work and respect to everyone even when she’s in a scenario where she may not know how to react.

“I was required to constantly meet new people and be opening and welcoming,” she said. “As a result, I became much better at greeting new people and starting up conversations, whereas I was quite shy before this experience. I feel as though I have gotten out of my comfort zone and am much more confident in meeting new people.

A recent staff photo of Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

Lauren found it really rewarding to be able to get close to people and gain their trust. In order to teach English one-on-one, students need to feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment. One particular student stood out to her. “He was very attentive in class, but definitely had trouble spelling. He came into class one day, and while I was reading sentences for my students to copy for dictation, he only had one or two errors as opposed to ten or twelve,” she said. “I looked up at him and told him he was doing a good job and saw a huge smile on his face. I asked him why he was smiling, and he said that after I told him to work on his spelling, he did. He tried. I felt good because he worked on his spelling to impress me.”

Sometimes a job title doesn’t include all the tasks that will be performed on the job. Lauren didn’t think an ESL teacher would need to spend hours on the phone trying to schedule doctor appointments and fill prescriptions.

“I would not have guessed that I would be helping adults prepare for job interviews or study for the learner’s permit test. While I may have one job title when working with people, I can only really help them if I keep an open mind and ask them if they need help with any new cultural information, not just English. Some refugees come to America with lots of family and great support systems, but some lack strong networks,” she said “It is especially important to check on the refugees without a strong connection to the English-speaking community, as navigating things, such as driving, doctors, or paying rent and electric bills can prove difficult for the first time if no one is around to walk them through the process.”

Before she started her internship, she wishes she would have known about the huge Burmese population on the southside of Indianapolis. She thinks she would have been able to do more research and be better equipped to work with these families. 

“I would tell other people to really research the groups of people they are going to work with, to show that they care about them and want to get to know them on a personal level,” she said.

By Maureen Langley
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