Volunteering and Academics Make a Great PAIR

So you’re a first-year student at Rice University. You’ve gone to the clubs expo and you’ve talked to upperclassmen about all of their extracurricular activities. But you don’t know what you really want to do — there are so many options and so many things you can/want to join. That was exactly how I felt my first semester freshmen year. I basically wanted to join every club, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so I decided to narrow my choices to two clubs: Student Admission Council (which I am happily writing this blog post for!) and PAIR (Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees), which is what I’m going to dabble about today.

PAIR is a volunteer program where you mentor refugee students with schoolwork, culture, and career and leadership skills. I was first exposed to PAIR from my sister. She loved it and urged me to join. I was initially very dubious — spending 2-3 hours every week mentoring refugees seemed like a lot to me (it’s really not) in the beginning. I was just learning how to deal with classes, but I decided to give it a try; it was possibly the best decision I ever made.

There are three programs of PAIR at Rice: The Global Explorers (elementary students), Learners (middle-schoolers), and Leaders (high schoolers) programs. I signed up for the Global Leaders program at Lee High School because I wanted to try out working with older students.

It was awesome. I got to know the other fellow Rice students (and other volunteers from Houston) really well through PAIR. And more importantly, I got to know the high schoolers and their background stories. Some of them very recently arrived in Houston, and I learned about their life (language, culture, family) back home. Many of the students where I volunteered were from Africa and spoke all of these cool languages. Some of the refugees’ English weren’t the best, but their embarrassment for speaking proper English made up for my inability to pronounce their language. We played games with them, had design competitions, taught them about interpersonal skills, and always managed to have a fun time every session. Sometimes we would even go on field trips to the Houston Zoo or go volunteering at a food bank. Yes, sometimes the kids needed disciplining, but I was able to learn how to balance being an older authority figure and a peer friend.

I’m not doing the Global Leaders Program anymore (you can blame my spring schedule for that); instead, I’m doing the Learners Program. I just went to my first session last week, and it was honestly such a blast meeting the new students. Of course, I miss my high schoolers a lot, but that just goes to show what great relationships you can form with them in just a couple of months.

There are so many volunteering opportunities out here at Rice, and you just have to find the one that makes you happiest. I’ve definitely found mine 🙂

If you want more information about Rice’s PAIR chapter, feel free to visit their website here: http://pair.rice.edu/

To celebrate the end of the Global Leaders fall program, the coordinator, students, and mentors got together to celebrate Thanksgiving-- we each brought food from our family's culture to share.


Looking Back at My First Semester at Rice

 On August 17th, 2014, I arrived at Rice University in a rental car filled with college essentials. Going to college was something I had been eagerly anticipating ever since I graduated high school, and I knew that my lifestyle and daily routines would change dramatically. From the minute I pulled up to my college, I was greeted by hordes of awesome and friendly upperclassmen who help you move in and introduce themselves to you. The first “week of college” is O-Week, when you get the chance to bond with new freshmen and upperclassmen, learn about your residential college culture, play fun activities, register for classes, and ultimately learn all about what Rice has to offer for the next four years. It’s hard to explain O-week in just a few sentences, but honestly there was never a dull moment and it really made me feel more comfortable starting my college career here. I’m all close friends with the people in my O-week group, and we still have weekly lunches together.

After O-Week was over, I realized that real college was beginning, and that made me feel pretty anxious. I don’t really know why, but it was so bizarre sitting in my first college class and typing up notes on my laptop. But again, knowing that all my fellow freshmen were going through the same transition allowed me to get adjusted quite quickly to my new college lifestyle. Buying super heavy textbooks, doing homework in the Commons, going to TAs’ office hours—it was all so surreal to me. I get to eat in the serveries for all my meals (yay Freshmen 15!) but also have to do personal chores, which means doing laundry, cleaning up my room, buying daily necessities, and managing my own time without my mom nagging me every 30 minutes.

You might think that transitioning into college workload while trying to get involved on campus and meeting new people might seem like a lot, and it was sometimes, but Rice facilitates such an awesome academic and social community that I ended up getting used to it relatively quickly. You get to know lots of your peers by taking the same classes with them (and bonding over frustrating homework problems) and through the myriad of clubs and events going on at Rice. Speaking of extracurriculars, I was surprised at how much Rice promoted getting involved beyond academics. There are tons and tons of things for you to do, which is probably why I signed up for so many student organizations during the Club Fair…

Living independently and dictating what I want to do for myself was a huge change for me, but there’s a reason why college is such a crucial point in your life. It can be daunting, and it still is challenging for me to deal with on occasion. Nevertheless, I’m excited to experience the next (and hopefully best) four years of my life at Rice and to document these experiences on this blog. See you soon!