Participants’ Intelligence & Work Ethic Make Me Think of My Immigrant Grandparents

by Fran Baumgartner, retired education professor & Viator House tutor

Working with the residents from VHH has been both challenging and rewarding.  I believe that we learn best when we are actively engaged in our own learning, and I try to plan lessons that require the students to be active participants.  Our students’ willingness to learn, their insightful questions, and their positive attitudes made teaching them a joy. 

Our students were consistent in asking questions so that they could truly understand what they were learning. We would often laugh together about American idioms.  I asked if they knew what the expression “to buy something for a song” meant.  The puzzled look on their faces was priceless. They had some interesting ideas and when I explained to them what it meant, they smiled.  Even though they are from different countries, they had similar expressions in their native language.

A Viator House participant who will finish high school next year shows the honor roll medal he received this


Learning about their cultures from them and comparing them to American culture was a highlight of each lesson, and no matter what we were studying, we tried to relate it to something in their own experience.  I learned that there are no coins in Somalia’s currency, and that people do not carry money but use their cell phones to make purchases! 

Very like American students, these young men were most interested in learning useful information, like what is required to get a GED or a high school diploma.  When we were studying jobs and occupations, they were very engaged because each of them has a dream of a future career.  One wants to be a pilot and I hope one day to fly with him as the pilot.  He has the intelligence and the work ethic to become a pilot one day.  I also hope one of my other Viator House students gets a degree in nursing one day, like he hopes.  His compassion and sense of humor will make him a great nurse. 

All of us who work with these students are impressed with their positive attitudes, their acceptance of where they are in life, their patience in preparing for the future, and their hopefulness that America will give them the opportunity to build a life that they could never have had in their native countries.  I can’t help but think that this is exactly what my grandparents believed when the left Italy and Ireland so many years ago.  I hope America is still that country.