Sherry moved to Knoxville in time to attend two sessions of an English class before Christmas a couple of years ago. She spoke English at what our lead ESL teacher calls “the blink-blink stage,” meaning she could say little beyond “hello.” But she persevered.
Afternoons in southern Iraq are hot. Working in his university’s research gardens, Safaa Alshuwaili was sweating when he noticed an interesting ant and followed it back to its hive. That ant belonged to the first of five ant species he found, classified, and named while studying there. In 2010, Safaa graduated with his master’s degree in environmental science.
He took a position at another university, where he taught insect taxonomy and classification for seven years. Then he received a scholarship to continue his studies in the United States. Safaa left his parents and five siblings in Iraq, landing in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Christmas time in 2013. He spoke almost no English.
It was August, but a cool breeze kept everyone comfortable beneath the dark wooden arches of the pavilion. Covered dishes crowded two long tables. I had peeked beneath every foil covering and inside every cling-wrapped container, and, like I do every Thanksgiving, I wondered when someone would finally decide it was time to eat. There were familiar dishes like mac-and-cheese and unfamiliar offerings, like chat masala.
(photo credit: Yahya Sami Alseiha)
When Chester Pun-Chuen immigrated to Knoxville in 1983, he didn’t expect to be an English teacher. He grew up speaking Filipino and English, with a bit of Cantonese from his father. In high school and college, he studied Spanish.
A couple of years ago, while leading his church’s Unity in Diversity ministry, Chester’s pastor asked him and his wife to assist a refugee family from Burundi. He didn’t expect to build such strong relationships with this mother and her four kids. The mom depended on the children to translate for her. Chester knew that was no way to build a life here in Knoxville, but what could he do?
Sundays are different at Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church these days. Swahili songs bounce off the beautiful stained-glass windows, and people greet a few church members as “Teacha” when they pass.
Just one year before this was written, Pastor McLain and others looked across the chain-link fence separating their church property from an apartment complex full of African refugees. How could they reach these new neighbors? How could they tangibly love them? How could they break through the figurative fence separating the two cultures?
Read the stories of Knoxville's local internationals and the volunteers who have impacted their lives. Get a first-hand view of what it's like to move here and/or to serve those who've moved here from other countries. Discover how KIN has impacted life and culture in metro Knoxville.