LINC: Making a Difference in Chapel Hill
By Cameren Lofton on December 10, 2019
This week, I would like to highlight one of the many groups on UNC’s campus working to address the needs of migrant communities in and around Chapel Hill. Founded in 2006 by Jakelin Bonilla and housed in UNC’s Campus Y, Linking Immigrants to New Communities (LINC) is a student-run organization whose primary goal is to aide in the transition to life in the United States. I interviewed Kennedy Parkins, co-chair of LINC, to learn more about this wonderful organization.
Twice a week, LINC holds English tutoring sessions for its members; however, these sessions are just a part of the work that they do. Parkins explained to me that because much of what this organization does is tailored towards the people who come to their meetings, they often offer help beyond English tutoring. For example, a person may come in with a question about insurance or the process of getting a license and the volunteers at LINC would work with them to find the answers to these questions and help them understand the most efficient ways to approach these processes. By expanding their work beyond tutoring sessions, the volunteers at LINC have established strong relationships and friendships with their members and helped them feel more comfortable and less ostracized during the process of adjusting to the US.
During the English tutoring sessions, volunteers work one-on-one with members in informal conversation settings. In one of her sessions with a man from Myanmar, Parkins listened to him as he read an article about his country in English. After he was done reading the article, they had an informal discussion about his country and the historical and political contexts behind the subject of the article. In addition to reading articles, members often educate volunteers on various aspects of their countries and the process of coming to the United States. By formatting their tutoring sessions as informal conversations, volunteers minimize the pressure that members feel to speak English with few to no errors. Through these sessions, both the volunteers and members are learning and growing closer. Rather than limiting their interactions to the tutoring sessions, volunteers and members sometimes hang out and invite each other to social events. LINC’s tutoring sessions demonstrate it is both possible and imperative to offer migrants and their communities the help that they need in a way that focuses on them and their experiences and does not diminish their agency.
Parkins wishes that there was more awareness around how difficult the transition to life in the United States is, especially when you are unfamiliar with the languages and customs in the country, and she believes that there can be a lack of empathy surrounding migrants and their communities. Many people are unaware of the ways in which people risk their lives and everything they know to leave their home countries. Occurrences that are already stressful for Americans can become even more stressful when someone is unfamiliar with the language or process. Furthermore, even when migrants have learned English, they can still be discriminated against for speaking with an accent. Instead of viewing them as individuals with complex personalities and stories, people unaware of their struggles often see and judge migrants through the lens of whichever stereotype they associate with migrants, immigrants, and/or refugees. LINC challenges this monolithic view of migrants through their informal tutoring sessions and the multitude of resources they offer to their members to help them become accustomed to life in the US.