Catholic Studies major Juan de Legarreta found an internship over
the summer that personally spoke to him as a U.S. citizen who emigrated
from Mexico City and had to adjust to life in a foreign country.
de Legarreta interned at The International Institute of St. Louis,
also where he resides, which helps more than 7,000 adult immigrants and
refugees from 75 countries. He specifically worked in the education
department, where classes offer varying levels of English and
citizenship courses, ranging from illiterate, to barely literate, to
intermediate, to advanced. These courses prepare immigrants and refugees
for the citizenship nationalization test.
Juan assisted the teachers for these courses as a teacher's aide. He
made sure everyone was writing correctly, their questions were answered,
and the teacher was achieving good interaction with the students. "Kind
of like being a teacher without running the class," de Legarreta said.
Volunteer work has always been a big part of de Legarreta's life.
Among his volunteer experiences, he went on a week-long service retreat
in high school, three years in a row, that his parish youth group
hosted. One year, he helped renovate a motor home for an elderly,
disabled couple who could not maintain their home. Another year, he
worked with a hoarder.
As an immigrant himself, de Legarreta said: "It just is really
meaningful that there are people that specifically look to volunteer to
help other people assimilate and be a part of the country."
de Legarreta emigrated here from Mexico in 1996 and stayed until
1999, when he went back to his homeland, and then returned to the States
in 2001. He considers himself "sheltered" compared to the immigrants he
taught, many of whom are political asylum refugees from places like
Somalia and Ethiopia.
"I really admire these people for the strength they possess. They
have been through a lot and carry the scars with them. I have been quite
fortunate to be able to immigrate twice here, and also to be raised in a
country without political changes and economic uncertainties," de
Legarreta said. He also said being able to speak English, Spanish,
Russian and a little bit of Arabic, he thought, would be catering to a
lot of their needs, but now is realizing he still has a long way to go,
since most of the people he taught, combined, easily speak 16 languages.
Among his love of language, learning, travel and culture, de
Legarreta also is very passionate about his faith, Catholicism. He
believes that the Catholic Church is the most vital contributor to
charitable service worldwide.
"It (Catholicism) has united my family in a necessary way, kept them
together and strong, so since it has been such a central thing for me,
the service has flowed out naturally," de Legarreta said. "Many people
think evangelization means knocking on doors, but actions speak loudest
in service because it's giving freely. I'm not looking for anything in
return. So in understanding Catholic studies, that service component is
not only valuable, but very important."
Dr. Ines Angeli Murzaku, chair of the Department of Catholic Studies
and professor of religion, said: "I am so incredibly proud of Juan. He
is our best representative and he is what the Department of Catholic
Studies is all about: a focus on God and his most beautiful creation,
the human being. All Catholics are called to do good, through whatever
means they have at their disposal and Juan has many gifts and talents he
can share. Homo hominis in servitor perficitur: 'The man only becomes a
man when he provides service to the neighbor.'"
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