Welcome Home: My Airport Experience

Social Media Intern Isamar Vega-Rodriguez took a break from her regular work to learn about the efforts that go into welcoming a newly arriving family.

As the Social Media Intern, I recently had the privilege of stepping out of the office with the intent to do something different; something every New American Pathways staff member, intern and volunteer looks forward to doing. With encouragement from my supervisors, I participated with the Resettlement team by taking part in an airport pickup. The pickup would help me further understand the process that goes behind resettling a family, and I eagerly took advantage of the chance to take part of something bigger than myself.

As the day approached, I got to see behind the scenes all the effort that goes into successfully resettling a refugee family. From locating an apartment for the family to comfortably live in, to grocery shopping the day before arrival, I noticed the process is done with extreme care and support from all the staff members at New American Pathways, and I was willing to take it all in and learn.

The morning of, I received a call from a longtime New American Pathways partner, Zane, who directed me where to meet once I arrived at the airport to pick up an incoming Syrian family of nine. As I arrived at the airport, I was swarmed with hundreds of people frantically walking from one concourse to the other. Meanwhile, in between all the airport chaos, I was on my way to the main arrival gate where I would ultimately meet the Syrian refugee family. As I arrived, my level of anxiety and expectancy rose.

The family arrived. Eager to help, I introduced myself and welcomed them to America as we walked towards the baggage claim to retrieve their bags. Zane later shared that airport pickups are the most exciting part of the whole refugee resettlement journey, and in that moment I could not agree more.

As the luggage arrived on the carousel, I sat with the families’ mother, grandmother, and children. It was quiet, but you could tell the family was exhausted after a long journey to America. My communication with them was very little – the most I could do in that moment was smile and give them the assurance that everything was going to be okay.

We collected the luggage, gathered together and broke up into two groups to get to the cars safely. I was in charge of making sure the mother carrying the newborn and the two little girls made it across the street and to the parking deck safely. I held on to the two little girls hands and exchanged smiles with the mother. As we got into the car you could tell the family was nervous and expectant for something greater than their life back at home. In that moment I realized that, even though we didn’t speak the same language and communication was limited, I could relate to the families emotions in the moment.

As half an hour of silence and broken English passed, we finally arrived to their new fully furnished apartment in Clarkston. The kids quickly jumped around with excitement and the nerves settled down. You could tell they finally felt at peace. They were humble and extremely thankful for their new home, and I likewise felt nothing but joy for them.

As they enjoyed their first meal together, provided by New American Pathways, I sat back and thought to myself how it is the little things in life that bring us the greatest joy. I could see it in their faces – and just to have the opportunity to take part in such an eventful day for this family and New American Pathways, the same joy was given back to me in return.

As time came to a close, I exchanged a big hug and smile with the mother, and I could instantly tell they were overjoyed because they had arrived at a safe place. That safe place is finally somewhere they could call home; home sweet home. And I could truly say, this was an experience of a lifetime. I now know why every New American Pathways staff member thoroughly enjoys this part of the process. The feeling of bringing someone home is irreplaceable.

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