What they say about working with SOLA...
It's so nice to be a part of an actual network of people going through the same things we are. It's really wonderful.
When I first began speaking with my SOLA student, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I didn't really think of myself as a teacher or tutor, but more like a Pen Pal you could see and talk to via Skype. What began as casual conversations about backgrounds, weather and families quickly expanded into lengthy discussions about cultural differences and values, heart-to-hearts about the difficulties of being an Afghan girl, dramatic tales of life in a teenage girl-filled dormitory and the pressures of success with so much at risk.
We began to add vocabulary-building activities, English reading, essay and poetry writing to our time together, so that now our calls flip from being tutor-like sessions to sisterly chats quite seamlessly. I follow her lead, focusing on academics when needed/requested or simply listening and making sure she knows she has a friend/supporter when she needs one. This has meant that our relationship has become emotionally intense, and truthfully, it can be difficult to go back about my day after especially heart-wrenching conversations. It can also mean that during times when school applications are due or important documents are being submitted, there's more work and time needed from me, so managing expectations with the student is critical. It has sometimes been more demanding time-wise than I would like, so I have gotten better at creating boundaries when needed.
I have come to think of my SOLA student as the little sister I never had. The experience has meant more to me than I ever thought possible. It's expanded my understanding of a place and a culture that, let's face it, hasn't always been represented positively or even been especially accessible in the west. She has told me that she's never talked to anyone the way that she's been able to open up to me and that's just about the greatest gift I can imagine. That we have become such an important part of each others' lives even at such a distance is a truly precious thing.
I have been mentoring/coaching a 17 year old SOLA boarding girl … Helping her prep her college application essay, working on vocabulary, sharing articles on the internet and then talking about them. Heavy emphasis on improving English, thinking on your feet etc. All of this via Skype. She has just applied to Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Davidson and Kenyon… I have to say that now that the college applications are submitted our coaching is much more about life skills etc. How to deal with prejudice in Afghanistan. How being a woman today is a tough pioneer life and then discussing who pioneers are, how they survive and impact the world etc. these kids need a wise friend. someone they can share things with that are difficult to share with their own families. Life is still tough for many people in Afghanistan. These children feel great responsibility for their families. For example, the girl I tutor is the eldest of six kids. Her father lives in Qatar and runs a shop. The mom and other kids live with relatives. My student feels like she must be an example to her siblings. She doesn't tell negative things to her mom because mom already has a long row to hoe. So it is VERY valuable for my student to be able to tell me things. And for me to get her to rethink some things.