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Intriguing internships: Alyssa DeRaymond makes Hogar ‘home’

  • A home in the U.S.
    A home in the U.S.  Among other duties, Alyssa DeRaymond '18 taught English and helped with citizenship and naturalization workshops at Hogar Immigrant Services, a division of Catholic Charities in Northern Virginia.  Courtesy photo
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Many William & Mary undergraduate and graduate students take advantage of the summer months to broaden their skills and gain experience in their chosen fields through internships. This story is the sixth in a series exploring some of the intriguing internships that students are engaged in this summer. — Ed.

Most evenings this summer, you could find William & Mary student Alyssa DeRaymond ’18 at Hogar Immigrant Services planning for her 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.

But it wasn’t DeRaymond taking the classes. She was teaching them, as an intern at the Manassas, Virginia, nonprofit, which offers legal, language and naturalization classes to immigrants.

“At first I was really scared to teach, because I’m only 18 and all of my students are older,” she said. “They could just walk out of the classroom and never look back. But they stay, and they study so hard. And they work too, on top of it. Sometimes they can’t come to class because they have to work. Yet they are learning English faster than I’ve ever seen anyone learn a language. They are very inspiring for me.”

DeRaymond said she was referred to Hogar (“home,” in Spanish) by her high school Spanish teacher when she was looking for an opportunity to practice the language and to work with Northern Virginia’s Latino community.

“A lot of them come from El Salvador and Honduras. Most people thing they come from Mexico, but they actually don’t,” she said.

The internship has allowed her to become intimately involved in the immigrant community. She hears their stories of struggle, of family separations and of the dangerous conditions in their home countries. And not just from Latino families, she said. The center’s classes are offered entirely in English because students come from every country imaginable.

“It’s definitely opened my eyes to different lifestyles and perspectives of people around the world, because we also have students from South Korea, and some of the different African nations …” she said. “It makes you think a lot more about how lucky we are, here in America, to have the things we have. It’s a very humbling experience for me.”

Where she originally planned to major in Hispanic studies, DeRaymond said she now plans to declare international relations and Latin American studies, with its emphasis on government and policy.

DeRaymond said most evenings she would arrive before her classes to work on lesson plans and teaching materials for the two evening ESOL classes. She also worked on editing a textbook developed by Hogar staff, substituted when volunteer teachers couldn’t make it and registered the next round of students.

Working in Hogar’s naturalization and citizenship workshops gave her insight into the struggles of starting life anew in a foreign country, she said.

“It’s really interesting because they learn the facts really fast, like how many presidents we’ve had or who their senator is,” she said. “But for them, the most difficult part is the writing – they have to write a sentence in English – and listening – they have to listen to the Customs official say a phrase and write it down or dictate it back. A lot of them didn’t go to school – most of them not past middle school – in their home countries.”

She said naturalization workshops can prove grueling for immigrants, as they fill out the N-400 form, which runs 21 pages.

“It’s basically all of their background information, about their family, where they’ve traveled since they’ve been here, their living history, their work history, everything you can think of,” she said. “That’s pretty easy to do once they have all their paperwork, like their passport, job information, marriage certificates, proof of divorce, children’s birth certificates. But for a lot of them, it’s really hard to get that information.

“It’s just a very long process. Working on it for 50 people in the span of a day, it takes a long time.”

Hogar depends vastly on volunteers, with few paid staff members, which helps keep costs down, DeRaymond explained.

“We get hundreds of students every year,” she said. “We take in everyone. If they can’t pay, we will find a way for them to still take classes. We offer scholarships. And we don’t ask too many questions; we’ll serve them if they are documented or not. That’s definitely one of the great things about working there.”

Though she was due back at school near the middle of the month, she was able to glean some idea before she left of how effective she’d been over the summer.

The day she talked to William & Mary News, a new round of English classes was beginning. “I’m really excited to see my students come back and see what they remember,” she said.

And a few days later, she emailed an update: “On Wednesday, one of the students from last semester came in to tell us that he passed his citizenship test and interview.”