My first classroom is small, and once in a while it is crowded. Irish accents are flying everywhere, and a huge number of people surround a small table because you have to make space for anyone who enters the room. In this space, people talk to me as if they have known me forever, almost like a distant cousin who is simply catching up with me. I have been warned that, “what is said in the canteen, stays in the canteen.”
As an introvert, crowded rooms and small talk are not exactly how I love spending my time, but the break room of the Department of Justice, a government organization, is quite a refreshing environment. Here I get the tea, literally and figuratively. The best restaurants, museums, the Duke interns that came before me, and the old days. In this room, I have learned a bit about the lives of the civil servants I interact with on a daily basis; what motivates them, where they lived, where they want to go, and how they train themselves to be good at everything because they can easily be moved to a different job. I also learn more about the Reception and Integration Agency, the branch I work for, which provides basic needs such as accommodation, food, and health care to asylum seekers as they go through the protection process.
My second classroom usually appears surprisingly, any time, any place. Every Wednesday, we have an activity with migrant youths, where we get to interact in a fun and engaging atmosphere. One day we leave the cinema after watching The Incredibles 2 and we see one of our friends from Duke Engage sitting with a group of people chatting. We pass by to say good bye and the people quickly ask us to join them. They all speak Arabic but each of them comes from a different country: Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait and Syria. This could be a meeting of the Arab league, because most of the members are present. It turns out that they attend the classes my friend offers at his placement. They talk about America and their desire to visit, and one man says softly “you only know people when you talk to them, meet them, and live with them, that’s why I will visit America.” This is a quick lesson on empathy.
He gets really excited when I tell him “Shukran” one of the five words I know in Arabic, to mean thank you and a conversation starts.
A few minutes before we leave, I ask a seemingly innocent question to Ahmed from Egypt. I ask him about the country with the most difficult Arabic. With confidence he says “Egyptian, because it is original.” This sparks one of the most fun and entertaining conversations as Jaffert from Syria is having none of that. In the end, the conclusion is that even though Egyptian “Arabia” is the original, Damascus, the capital of Syria is the oldest and first city in the world.
The 2 classrooms might be extremely disconnected, but both of them are made up of people. People that work, people that have stories, people that live their lives, and people that can teach you a thing or two if you just listen.