Today’s guest blogger is Natalie Holland, a student at University of North Florida who is interning with LSS this semester. Natalie is pictured, above left, with the children of the refugee family she mentors.
As a first year biology student, I was set on a path that I knew by heart. I wanted to study disease research, go to graduate school, and get an internship at the Centers for Disease Control. That, of course, would lead to a job that I would have until retirement. When I was a child, I was diagnosed with leukemia, so I knew that I wanted to help people the way they had helped me. Now a fully healthy adult, I wanted to make people better and in return, they would have a better life. So that’s what I set out to do.
I was enrolled in biology, chemistry, and calculus, but I also had a course called Colloquium. This course was an entry-level class in which students learned how to succeed; my semester’s focus was on immigration. Our main assignment was to partner with an organization that I had never previously heard of: Lutheran Social Services. I chose to get involved in mentoring and, along with a few other students, I was matched with a refugee family in Jacksonville that I would visit once a week for the semester. I had always loved kids so I was excited to get to know them and see what I could show them. Little did I know, they would teach me so much more than I could ever teach them and I still learn from them every day.
After spending a little over two months visiting this family, my former life plan was flipped on its head. I changed my major to international relations and decided to focus on immigration and refugee policy. I say “flipped on its head” rather than “thrown out the window” because in reality, I was still doing the thing that I had set out to do, just a little differently. Not only am I going to be able to help people have a better life, but I’m allowing them to thrive. I am no longer going to cure disease, but I will still be fighting for people and their human rights. People are always calling me brave for beating cancer and they tell me that they can’t imagine going through what I did. What I think is brave, is leaving the place you were born and going somewhere where no one speaks your language or understands what you’ve gone through, just to give your family a chance to survive. I cannot imagine leaving everything I know to go somewhere of which you know nothing. So I knew that I wanted to work at LSS, the place that turned my world upside down, and give back wherever I could. So now instead of interning at the Centers for Disease Control, I am an intern at Lutheran Social Services. Day to day I am allowed the chance to help refugees gain stability in a new life and support their efforts to succeed. Getting insight into this organization’s work has created a whole new fire in me, one that I will take with me wherever it is that I end up.
To this day, I visit that same family whenever I can, usually once a week. We study, bake cookies and tell jokes, but what we really do is appreciate. We appreciate each other, our apartments, the food we eat, the laughs we share. We appreciate our mothers and our siblings and the way we can speak a little of both of our languages. Mostly though, we appreciate Lutheran Social Services.