Alleviating the Unsettled Nature of Resettlement

 

Katia at the State Fair this year with friend and colleague Tar Paw.
Katia at the State Fair this year with friend and colleague Tar Paw.

Katia Iverson ’12 has come to embrace her not-so-common desire—an inexplicable desire—to be around people unlike herself. Likely related to her curiosity about culture and her passion for service and diversity, this desire has been nurtured since childhood by parents who she says are “faithful givers with incredible hearts for service to others.” They are her strongest encouragers in her chosen field—work with refugee resettlement—which she still sees as her “dream job.”

Drawn to Augsburg by the authenticity of her first campus visit (less than glamorous, she says), and because she perceived “no barriers between the school and the city,” Iverson became immersed in service-oriented thinking early, particularly as part of the first Augsburg group of Bonner Leaders, a national student leadership program.

Katia in Los Angeles visiting friend Adam Spanier, 2012 alumnus of Augsburg and the Honors Program.
Katia in Los Angeles visiting friend Adam Spanier, 2012 alumnus of Augsburg and the Honors Program.

She was amazed at how her Bonner placements (internships with community organizations) informed and reflected the learning in her classes. By the time she was a senior, she knew it would be important that her placement that year look like a job she’d want to do in the “real world.” Grateful for help from advisor Kristin Farrell, Iverson was pleased to be placed at the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) Refugee Services as a bus mentor. In this capacity, she met newly arriving refugees from Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Thailand, and rode the bus with them to the refugee services office, cultural orientation class, their child‘s school, and English classes. Some of the refugees spoke English well, others not so well, so communication ranged from hearing their poignant refugee camp stories to being present in semi-silence and exchanging gestures and occasional giggles as they tried to understand each other.

Another of her Bonner placements was at the East African Women’s Center, where she worked with newly arrived refugee women and their children through cooking together, English classes, childcare, sewing, weaving, and professional development. A key learning for Iverson from the center’s director was that young mothers are the “cornerstone of the family if successful integration is going to occur…and the sad part is they are getting the least focus.” Unfortunately, the Center closed in 2012 due to lack of funding.

Katia with Salma, former colleague's daughter, who asked Katia to wear a hijab for a picture together in Salma's home.
Katia with Salma, former colleague’s daughter, who asked Katia to wear a hijab for a picture together in Salma’s home.

As an Augsburg student, Iverson found a kindred spirit in Professor Frankie Shackelford, whose cross-cultural courses and “next steps” questions were a guiding force. Another deeply influential aspect of her Augsburg education was a semester in Kenya, which got her thinking about how and why migration happens, both on an individual level and among large groups of people. Her time there was a learning experience about what life can be like when one feels “stuck” in his or her own country. Continue reading “Alleviating the Unsettled Nature of Resettlement”