Prof. Deb Reisinger established a conversation exchange between newly arrived French-speaking refugees from Central Africa with her students in the Voices in Global Health French tutorial, GLHLTH 270T in 2013 and has continued to develop relationships with newly arrived French-speaking refugees in Durham ever since. Students in the tutorial, sponsored by Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum, and the service-learning course, FRENCH 325: Issues in Global Displacement: Voix Francophones, explore global health issues related to displacement and resettlement, such as access to healthcare and education.

Over the course of the semester, they are partnered with families from the DRC and CAR, exchanging cultural practices and practicing both English and French. CWS, a national non-profit organization with a branch in Durham, has facilitated initial contacts in the refugee community.  As part of their coursework, Duke students are collaborating on the website project LANGUAGES IN DURHAM by producing materials for FRENCH IN DURHAM. They have also 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.

In the spring of 2015, students in the tutorial implemented a digital literacy project that provided donated computers to the families. Said one community partner,

“I can do my homework and see many things on my computer…I can check my bank account online and learn how to [better] use technology. I can go to google and learn how to contact my library and can see a lot of materials and books from the library to read about [all the] US history that I need to learn to become a citizen and other details about the immigration process. It really helps me prepare to go to my immigration meetings so that I’m not as nervous when I go. I love [my new computer]."

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.