Ai Talks about Japan

Japan factsWe’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Ai!  Thanks for telling us about your native country.

Question: Where are you from?

Answer: I was born in Osaka, but I moved to Tokyo when I was young.

Question: If I went to Japan, what places should I visit?

Answer: You should visit Kyoto, the old capital.  It has Buddhist temples and many old buildings.  Hot springs are also a good place to visit, especially on Hokkaido.  Hokkaido is the big island above the main island of Japan.  It’s a lot like Iowa: it is more open and has a mix of farms and cities.

Question: What do you want people to know about Japan?

Answer: Japan has good customer service.  We have no tipping system, but the service is very good.  In Japan, people always apologize for mistakes, even if it isn’t their fault, because the customer has the right.  Also, I want people to know Japanese restaurants here are not really Japanese.  For example, we don’t put cream cheese or avocado in sushi rolls.


Silvia talks about Guatemala

Infographic about Guatemala. 21 CMC students are from Guatemala.We’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Silvia! Thanks for telling us about your native  country.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born in Guatemala City, but my family is originally from San Marcos.

Q: What’s your favorite food from Guatemala?

A: Tamales are a traditional food in San Marcos. They are very different from Mexican tamales. My grandmother made tamales with rice, not corn. We’ve tried to make them here, but it’s hard to find the ingredients, and they take a long time to make.

Q: What do you want people to know about Guatemala?

A: I don’t want people to say, “Where is that?” I want all people from all walks of life to know that yes, Guatemala is a country with honest people, proud, heartwarming, welcoming and, most of all, hardworking people to make a significant impact on the world. I want others to know that we are a country just like the U.S. full of diversity in ethnicity, religion, and age.

When people make a voyage to Guatemala, it’s to see the Mayans, but they are also in a country that holds many more wonders yet to be seen.


Remembering Lynsey

Lynsey Brown, globe, and study materials collageSo often here at the Center we get caught up in the schedule and the hectic rush of tutors and students. We sometimes forget to give a heartfelt “Hello, how are you?” or we think we’ll check in next time/next week. This past week we lost a dear member of our extended family of learners and educators.

Lynsey Brown came to tutor twice a week for almost three years. She gave her time and she gave her knowledge of educating others to her students, to staff, and to other tutors. We often had our new tutors observe her teaching – we knew she did a stellar job and could give each new tutor-learner a good idea of how to make a real and lasting connection with their student. She had a smile that caused a reciprocal smile back, every time. Education staff heard her and her students laughing down the hall and knew learning was being done and that it was fun!

Every moment she spent here was cherished by her students, Hector and José. Hector told us this past week, “She taught me good things. We laugh a lot because I don’t know any friends—she was good American to talk to and a friend.”  Staff commented all week that she was giving, open, and truly a gem to have in our tutoring family.  Leeann remembered her as “kind, gentle, and filled with good intentions” and Katie remembered her as “a gifted teacher who was ready to help any student. Staff and students alike always seemed so comfortable in her presence.”

Lynsey asked her family to be sure Catherine McAuley Center received her furniture as donation for refugee and immigrant families as they begin new lives here in Eastern Iowa. Her kindness, thoughtfulness, and truly wonderful spirit will be greatly missed here at the Center. We know that the Center is now imbued with Lynsey’s energy of goodwill and her delightful laughter. She’s helped us to remember that the moment it takes to wish someone well, or check in with each other, can and should be taken—nothing is more important than the connections we continue to make with one another.

Anne and the CMC Education team

Davood talks about Iran

We’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Davood! Thank you for telling us about your native country.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born in Tehran, the capital city.

Q: What’s your favorite food from Iran?

A: Meat kabobs.

Q: What was your job in Iran?

A: I went to college and studied auto mechanics. Then, I worked for a car company doing customer service and car repairs. I also worked at my father’s bakery, where we made bread by hand in a brick oven.

Q: What do you want people to know about Iran?

A: Iran is a very old country with very old religious traditions. The New Year is a special holiday in Iran celebrating the spring. Spring is the best time to visit Iran because the world is waking up and everyone is happy and kind.


Pronouncing Students’ Names

Student close-up

“A name well-spoken is a simple but meaningful gift we can all extend each other as we nurture an inclusive community at CMC.”

In a community like CMC, where tutors, students, and staff alike come from many different backgrounds and 51 countries, we’re bound to say each other’s names wrong. Yet the impact of a mispronounced name may be more harmful than we believed.

An excellent podcast from the Cult of Pedagogy discusses the unique duty educators have to pronounce students’ names well, especially when they aren’t anglicized. This article is based on the original podcast, which you can listen to here, or find on iTunes.

Jennifer Gonzalez, a National Board Certified teacher, explains in the podcast, “One of the simplest ways we can show respect to our students and show that we are interested in them as individuals… is to make an effort to pronounce their names correctly, or call them what they want to be called.” What happens if we don’t? “Whether you intend to or not,” Gonzalez says, “what you’re communicating is, ‘Your name is different, foreign, and weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right.’”

Oftentimes, students who come from other countries are used to the relentless mispronunciation of their name—at the doctor’s office, at the bank, at the coffee shop—which can serve as a constant reminder that they are considered an outsider. When we, as their friends and teachers, make an effort to say their name correctly, they understand that we care about them and value them. They belong.

A name well-spoken is a simple but meaningful gift we can all extend each other as we nurture an inclusive community at CMC.

Student and tutor

“Every name is an opportunity to cultivate a welcoming community that embraces everyone just as they are.”

How does this look in practice? Gonzalez remembers that the teachers she most appreciated as a student were those who did whatever it took to learn students’ names, even if it meant asking them on multiple occasions, or taking class time to practice. Although this might seem annoying or cumbersome, for her it was evidence that the teacher really cared.

As a tutor at CMC, it’s never too late to improve your pronunciation of your student’s name, even if you’ve worked with them for a long time. They will appreciate it! 

  • Don’t be afraid to admit your error. 
  • Ask them to teach you. Let yourself be the student, and they the teacher.
  • Go online to hear native speakers pronounce the student’s name. Gonzalez recommends
  • Make yourself a cheat sheet. Write out a phonetic pronunciation of their name, or draw a diagram linking each syllable to a familiar object. For example, Theotric is pronounced “thee” like movie theater, “AW” like opera, “trick” like trick or treat: “thee-AW-trick.”
  • Don’t give up! Be careful never to impose a nickname on the student because it’s easier for you to pronounce, unless they tell you that’s what they prefer to be called. Believe in your ability to learn their name, and remind yourself that doing so will bear good fruit.

At CMC, we want to extend everyone the dignity of a well-pronounced name. So, we encourage you to correct staff members’ mispronunciations of your name or your student’s name. In doing so, you help us all include and respect one another.

Whatever it takes to learn your student’s name, Gonzalez reminds us, “It is worth the effort to get it right.” Every name is an opportunity to cultivate a welcoming community that embraces everyone just as they are.

By Mari Hunt Wassink, Education Program Coordinator at the Catherine McAuley Center. 

Staff Chat: Tutors

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we sat down to chat with Anne, Katie, and Leeann from our Education staff team to hear about the impact they see volunteer tutors make every day! 

Tutor OrientationWhat are some of your favorite moments or memories of working with tutors?

Anne: [Tom] is just outstanding.

Katie: He’s just a very lovely, gentle human being.

Leeann: Tom comes for three hours every Saturday. He comes a half hour early and does language study of Spanish on his own in the space, and then he just hangs out, and if the students cancel he’s totally fine. He’s there as a resource.

Anne: Yeah, he’s not just coming for the students, he’s coming for the staff as well. He’s kind of fantastic.

Leeann: He doesn’t ask for anything, but comes here for opportunities to learn and grow which is really fun to watch. He asks a lot of good questions, like if there’s a grammar concept he doesn’t know, he really likes to learn from us. So he hangs out, does his own thing. And he’s really lovely with the students and can work with anyone. And then… he brings us food. It is so nice!

Anne: There’s always Dennis, and the jokes.

Katie: A lot of folk songs as well.

Anne: After every session, everybody wants him as a teacher.

Katie: He also just jumps in and does anything that needs to be done. One morning there was a tutor orientation and we were totally slammed, and he was greeting the new volunteers and showing them down to the basement without anyone asking him to do that! He was just like, “People need to know where to go.”

Anne: Duronda just came back from her winter travels. The whole time she has been sending postcards and letters to her students. And I know Linda wrote and sent e-mails while she was gone. We laugh that we lose so many tutors during the winter, but they really do stay in contact, even if they don’t have the same student when they come back. They’re still connected even while they’re away on vacation or for longer periods. It’s pretty amazing!

And I just talked to Elias about his [former] Citizenship tutor, Matt. I wrote to Matt and asked if I could give Elias his phone number. He wrote back that Elias, his integrity and his will to learn is the reason that they continue to support the Center. I think all of the tutors are affected as well as the students.

Leeann: I think Citizenship brings a lot of engagement from tutors, too. I’m thinking about Wes. Back in March Sahrakef’s ceremony was in Davenport and he drove over for the ceremony.

Anne: Citizenship ceremonies—every time we go the tutor is there. That’s not uncommon.


What is the most inspiring thing about the volunteers you work with?

Anne: Honestly, on any given day, while we may be swamped because of all the people in here and everything that’s happening, the fact is the place runs because of them. We don’t have a job, we don’t have the opportunity to help or the opportunity to engage to this degree without the greased wheel of communication through tutors. What they’re offering to us is pretty impressive.

And when I tell people we have 350 volunteer tutors, I always hear this audible gasp. This is happening all the time, every day, in the middle of Cedar Rapids. It’s just amazing to me!

Katie: It’s really cool, too, at orientations when we ask people why they’re here, how many say, “Because my friend told me” or “because my mom comes here” and how that word of mouth spreads from person to person. I think that’s a testament to how the tutors are not only serving us here in the building. They also reach out into the broader community.

Anne: I really hope they know that every time we write a thank you, send an e-mail, put it on the board, put it on the wonderful birthday cards we love to do, I hope they understand how deeply that it’s meant. There’s no doubt about that.

Anne: We like ‘em.

Katie: We’ll keep ‘em.

Leeann: We like ‘em, we’ll keep ‘em. (laughs)


To all volunteer tutors, thank you for the time, knowledge, and skills you share with your study partners. Your commitment is noticed and your compassion is appreciated!

International Women’s Day

Today, people across the globe will observe International Women’s Day to recognize the achievements of women everywhere. At CMC, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by having conversations with women in our CMC community about what it means to be a woman. This week, and every week, we are so proud of everything these women have accomplished!

What does it mean to be a woman?


Yamile (Colombia):  That’s a good question because women have a lot of, you know, meanings. We are just, a human being, but we are so complex… I think we represent a feminism, I don’t know how do you say. Femininidad? Femininity. And that’s a big difference that separate us from men. And to talk in some lovely words, we are full of love to give to other people… I think we are so, in a balance? Mhm, we are just not like, brain. We just do things with your heart and you think at the same time with your mind and your heart at the same time, you know?

Ying Ying (China):  [It’s] God’s gift!

Sahrakef (Somalia):  Without women there was nothing possible, even the God choosed women. Man… he say the man cannot live alone by himself without women. So he choosed it, to bring women there… We are just two parts, so the one powerful part it comes from women. It’s very important. Women they are very important, I’m so glad to be a woman.

Grace (China):  It’s so hard. A lot of burden, and some people, you know, your husband, whenever your husband doesn’t understand you it’s so hard to explain… [you have to] find a balance, you have to devote your time and energy to your family and at the same time to your job.


Why are you proud to be a woman?


Bahareh (Iran):  You know, I like [that] I’m woman, but, that’s just for me, you know? I like always do all the man do. You know, for example, I learned the business. I like that, you know, I like the hard business. Before I had my business when I was in my country. I always have hard job like all the man do. But, you know, I think so when you woman you can feel everything more, you know? You can love everything. I think so like that. You can love everything more, your kids, you can talk more, more easily.

Maria (Mexico): I’m proud to be a woman because you can give birth to a child, you can take care of your kids, and you can um… I don’t know. Do many things like do your hair, do your nails… I’m proud to be a woman.

Ying-Ying (China):  Yeah, the mom is the first example. A good example for the child… the woman, the mom, is important. Because the dad, always no time to spend with education for the child. So if we are just like, a house woman, it is a big job.

Yamile (Colombia):  Oh, just the fact that you are a woman that should make you proud because, you know, we are, how do you say? Like, how do you say ‘guerrera’ in English? Warrior. Yeah! That’s us! Like going for something and there are women that maybe get frustrated with some things in their lives, but we just have to invite them to be warriors too. To overcome the things. I don’t know, I think it’s just special being a woman you know. Like starting from the body because we are designed to have babies, and that’s so important.


Do you have any advice for young girls about being a woman?


Maria (Mexico):  Yes. I want to teach her to be proud of herself, to have a career, to study, and be, to be prepared for the future.

Grace (China):  For themselves they should have a moral standard higher than expectation. Because I think that the whole country is going to be decided by the feminine because our job is to bring up the next generation, which is the most important thing. If we don’t do a good job, how can our country grow up? So I think we do the main characteristic in our society, so the girls, the feminine, in general is more important.

Bahareh (Iran):  If somebody has a wish, they just have to go and go for it. You know what’s that mean? They have to just try and do everything they can to reach their wish, you know? They have to. If I was maybe 20 years again, maybe I would, I would do more, you know, for my life. But I did too much, you know? I always work, and I did too much. But, if again, I was younger I would do everything for my… what’s the name? For my target, yeah. Never stop.


Do you have anything else you want to say about International Women’s Day?


Sahrakef (Somalia): I am just sending a message for the other women who have been suffering about this world… But my message is that this is a part of the life. I’m sending my other women, all my sisters in this world, whoever suffering, I’m just telling them: be strong! Everybody, they gonna have their own day. They will have a better life, and they will have the things is gonna get good and change whatever issue they have. Be strong. We are under God, we are in one world. We will get better life. And God gonna remove all, whatever issue. So I pray for them, and I’m sorry for them. That’s my message. That’s what I’m saying.


Happy International Women’s Day from the Catherine McAuley Center!


Meeting Limited Literacy Needs

More than one-third of students waiting to receive a tutor at CMC have little to no literacy in their native language.     Recently, CMC has seen a large increase in adults with limited first language literacy seeking educational assistance, a group that faces distinct challenges in acquiring English communication skills. Many of these students come from Burundi and Guatemala, but limited literacy students come to us from all over the world. Access to education is something many Americans take for granted, but war and poverty, among other factors, prevent many people from pursuing education in their home countries. In addition, marginalized ethnic groups and women may not have been permitted to attend school due to cultural beliefs and rules.

Students with limited first language literacy must begin from a very different starting point than traditional English as a Second Language students. These students begin by learning the English alphabet, and slowly learn how letters make sounds and form words. The focus of these lessons is on how to improve communication skills, not how to perfect one’s grammar. While progress is slow, these students are able to acquire English literacy skills. Recently, after many months of practicing how to clearly write their personal information, a group of limited literacy students completed application forms for their very first library cards!

If you are interested in tutoring students at this level, please contact the Education program at (319) 731-0444 and consider attending the tutor training on April 7 that will further address how to work students who have limited first language literacy.

My Life in Colors: Mu Ruo’s Journey to CMC

On Sunday, October 11, guests at the 19th Annual Catherine’s Tea were privileged to hear firsthand the words of Mu Ruo, a student from Burma who participates in CMC’s Adult Basic Education Program. In the video below, you, too, can hear her compelling narration that highlights the colors which have represented the various stages of her journey to the U.S.

Transcript below:

Hello! Nice to see you today. My name is Mu Ruo. Today I am going to use colors to tell you about my past life in Burma.

Green: the hills all around our village in Burma.
Beautiful Gold: the rice when it’s ready for harvest.
White, Blue, Red, Pink: the handwoven dresses we wore to church on Sundays. In those dresses we sang our colors to Jesus.
Green and tall: the bamboo in the forest and in village yards.
White and Brown: the chickens under our house with stilts.
Pink: the sticky rice cooked inside a banana leaf that we ate with a little sugar.

Dark Green: the soldiers’ uniforms who came to our village. All the same dark green.
Dark Gray: the guns the soldiers carried.
Red: the fire from our burning houses.
Gray: the smoke that rose up and spread out to block the sky.
Black: the ground after the fire when we returned to see what the soldiers had done.
Dark Black: the cave where we hid in the forest.

Dark Black: the 30 nights we walked to the refugee camp after we said goodbye to our village.
Golden: the bamboo houses of the refugee camp, my new village.
Clear Blue: the creek that flows through the camp.
White: the plastic bags of rice stacked under our house–rations from the UN.
Brown: the trails we walked in the camp, the same brown trails every day for 8 years.

White: the letter that said I could move to the United States.
I wish I could remember the color of the plane we rode in to the US, but we were so worried for our lives that I didn’t pay attention to the color!
Bright Colors: the first colors I saw in America.
White: the skin of so many Americans!
Yellow: the bus that now takes my kids to school.
Pink, Yellow, Red: the roses in my front yard in Cedar Rapids.
Green: the long beans I grow in my back yard.
Red, White, and Blue: the US flag that waves in front of our house.
Green: my Green Card!

Blue, Red, Green, and Orange:  the books I’ve worked through at the Catherine McAuley Center.
White: my teacher’s white pants. She has taught me since 2011. She is so kind and helps me with my English and also with my life.

At CMC I have found a community of people who share their friendship and knowledge with me.With the Center’s help I have learned all the questions on the citizenship test. I have done my fingerprinting in Des Moines, and I am ready to take the test and become a citizen!

The one-teacher-one-student system helps me learn because it gives me more opportunity to speak, write, and read.I want to thank the Education staff of the Catherine McAuley Center. Thanks to all of you here today for helping support the Center.


The Catherine McAuley Center would like to extend a special thanks to Mu Ruo for sharing her story and her smile with us, as well as each guest at Catherine’s Tea, who by attending the event, supported the CMC programs that help hundreds of other students just like Mu Ruo to integrate into the Cedar Rapids community.

You can directly impact the life of a CMC student by becoming a volunteer tutor. Tutors work one-on-one with a student through an English as a Second Language curriculum provided by CMC each week. Read more about tutoring or register for a tutor orientation.