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.

 

Owls, Owls Everywhere! ASB San Francisco

Being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. This Spring Break, instead of staying at home in Houston, I traveled to San Francisco, California on an Alternative Spring Break Trip to focus on the education gap in our nation.

What is an Alternative Spring Break trip? It’s exactly what the name suggests. No misnomer here! It is a service trip sponsored by Rice’s Community Involvement Center that you have to apply to. If chosen, you and the other members of your group go volunteer with the specified organization. There are several ASB trips each year, with various destinations and organizations. You can view a list of the 2012 trips at this link, under “2013 Trip Destinations”: http://cic.rice.edu/asb/#Student Information Sessions.

In San Francisco, I was paired with a teacher at a middle school. During the school day, I observed and helped out in the classroom, and afterwards, I volunteered at the built-in after school program. Not only did I get to help the kids, but I also got to learn about them, play games with them, and talk to them. I now understand the current state of our public education system better, and I learned that educational inequality involves many complex features. There isn’t an easy solution for educational inequality, but little things, such as telling a kid about your experiences in college, can potentially make a difference.

In addition to volunteering, my ASB group and I also got to tour around San Francisco. Some of the places we went to included Ghirardelli Square (I had the BEST ice cream cone in my LIFE), Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, and Baker Beach.

I mentioned how being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. My group and I stayed in San Francisco for only a week. But, one night, as we were headed back on the bus to the place we were staying at, we met a Rice alumnus! One of my friends had been wearing a Rice hoodie, and the alumnus noticed it and started talking to our group. He had graduated a few years ago, and told us he now works in San Francisco. Owls, Owls, everywhere!

In short, my ASB experience was amazing, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

Here we are at Baker Beach. Some of us made an ASB SF light show with our phones! Photo Credit: Soorya Avali.