Interview with Julia Saltzman
By Michaela Johnston
The International Institute of New England serves immigrants and refugees—2,000 yearly—from around 66 countries through a variety of services and programs. IINE started in Lowell, MA in 1919. Now, the organization welcomes immigrants and refugees at locations in Boston, Lowell and Manchester, New Hampshire.
Julia Saltzman has been coordinating volunteers, coaching ESOL students and teaching cultural and work orientation classes at the IINE Boston branch since September 2016. She is a Commonwealth Corps member and is completing 10 months of service with the organization.
What kind of impact does IINE hope to leave in the Greater Boston community?
Our focus is primarily on education and workforce development for immigrants of all statuses and refugees. We want to empower these new members of our community through skills development and English education to become self-sufficient. This means we want clients to improve their English, focusing to secure employment as well as build long term strategies to enter higher education and advance their careers.
What programs and services are offered at the Boston branch of IINE?
We provide the initial services for when a refugee comes to our country. That means everything from picking them up at the airport, providing housing, clothing, and food as well as signing them up for SNAP, Mass Health and Social Security numbers. Basically, everything you need to build a life here.
After their first week or so they enter English classes. These are called the English for Employment classes. In these classes, we are not just teaching English so they can go and read a Virginia Woolf novel, they’re learning English so that they can secure employment and work towards self-sufficiency.
Another aspect of their education programming in their first months is that they’re required to take both cultural and work orientation courses. These are courses built towards integrating them into American culture and sharing aspects of our lives here.
Once someone receives all of their documentation to secure employment, they begin working intensively with our employment services department…Our goal is for them to get a job that they like and will stay in and to get them that job as soon as possible. Our employment specialists will work one on one with these clients to build resumes, apply for jobs, build interviewing skills and ultimately place them in a position.
We also have a couple programs open to anyone in the immigrant community. Our Hospitality Training Program and the Service Industry Training Program are educational courses designed to develop people’s skills in the hospitality and service industries help advance their careers. In addition, we have an evening ESOL program which focuses on academic and career readiness. Any immigrant, of any status, can enroll in our ESOL program.
What ways do BU Empowerment League volunteers serve at IINE?
Right now, BU volunteers are helping out with our ESOL evening classes. We have classes from 6 to 9 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The BU volunteers assist the teachers in the classroom. This can be working in smaller groups, maybe giving more individualized attention, sometimes leading lessons or whatever teachers feel is the best fit for both the class and the volunteer.
What is your favorite part about teaching classes?
My favorite part is just realizing what being an American means since I was born here and have always known my identity to be what [it] is. Every day I’m amazed by the assumptions I make in my life! I have learned how those from different cultures come from different backgrounds and how these different backgrounds inform their lives here. It’s been really fun getting to meet people from all over the world, learning a little bit about their culture and sharing some of the things that I know.
There are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding immigrants and refugees, especially after our recent presidential election. Has IINE been affected since the election? In what ways? In what ways is IINE able to help break down stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrants and refugees?
The largest impact is that the president has reduced the number of refugees to be admitted…the previous president Obama had set this number at 110,000 and the new president reduced this number to 50,000 people. Since September 2017, other organizations like ours across the country have already resettled a huge chunk of that 50,000. So, from now until September, we will have very few arrivals expected. I can’t say what will happen in the future but I can say we’ve been doing this work to welcome immigrants and refugees for a long time and we’re going to continue to do so.
For clients that are already in our services, we have hosted special presentations by immigration lawyers to help them learn about their rights as immigrants. One of the positives of the recent events is that it’s generated a lot of interest in the work that we are doing. We have seen an increase in press coverage, donations, interest in volunteering. Obviously…we need to be constantly following the trajectory of the executive orders and how, once implemented, they will impact our programming.
So, one of the ways that we are able to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about refugees is through educating the community about refugee and immigrant experiences and the work that we’re doing. We’ve hosted several events to engage the community, including a Suitcase Stories series that shares immigrant stories and a lecture series that focuses on academic questions around refugee issues and resettlement. I definitely would encourage anyone to check out our website for a chance to learn more.
Interested in human rights? Check out the Empowerment League.