When Deb Reisinger, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Romance Studies and Affiliate Faculty in Global Health, learned that Durham was one of the primary sites for the 50,000 Congolese refugees being settled in the United States over the next five years, she saw a unique opportunity for her students to get involved.

In the spring of 2013, she developed a ½ credit course – GLHLTH 270T/FR 270T - that combined classroom instruction with a service-learning component that paired students with local families. The course, which is sponsored by the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) initiative, explores global health issues related to resettlement, such as access to healthcare and education. Students engage in project-based work designed to respond to community needs. These have included bilingual welcome packets, a digital literacy project that distributed Duke surplus-issued computers to local families, and most recently, the DUKE HELLO project, designed to help support ESL teaching and learning for local families.

Service-learning also figures prominently in FRENCH 325/GLHLTH 325: Issues in Global Displacement: Voix Francophones. This course explores current laws, processes, and practices related to refugee resettlement, focusing on Francophone refugees in North America.

Over the course of the semester, students are partnered with families from Cameroun, Rwanda, the DRC, and the Central African Republic, exchanging cultural practices and practicing both English and French. CWS and World Relief, two national non-profit organizations with branches in Durham, facilitate initial contacts in the refugee community.  As part of their coursework, Duke students have collaborated on the French in Durham website, and DUKE HELLO project and curated a museum exhibit on Central African Refugee Resettlement in Durham at the Durham History Hub, which was later archived at the Durham County Library.

Learn more about CBL experiences in a blog, an article about the exhibit at the History Hub, and an article about Central African refugees attending a Duke basketball game with Duke students.

A Story of Service Learning: You Never Know

When you sign up for a service-learning class, you may look at the syllabus and think you know what’s coming. But sometimes the unexpected occurs. Recently, a student from Voices in Global Health was helping a French-speaking refugee family set up an email account on a new laptop that the SL course arranged to have donated by Duke, when all of a sudden they heard —and felt —a loud boom. They ran outside and saw that a car had crashed into the apartment downstairs, leaving a gaping hole in the building. No one was hurt, but there was a lot of commotion. The student stayed for several hours interpreting for the Red Cross and the police and other French-speaking neighbors.
According to Professor Deb Reisinger, a situation like this can trigger trauma or PTSD, and so it demands special care. “This student’s actions—being flexible, helpful, tolerant, and calm—are just the kinds of things we're hoping to see on the ground and in action as a result of a service-learning course,” she says.