Christopher Helgeson is a software developer who has been working alongside Saw-Sa-Nay, a native of Myanmar, since October of 2017. With Christopher’s guidance, Saw is making significant progress in his listening and conversation skills. Just as importantly, the two have had a meaningful exchange of cultural ideas and experiences.
Like many tutors, Christopher initially sought out the tutoring program at the Literacy Center as a way to give back to the community. At the time, he had a lot of availability in his schedule and wanted to fill it in a meaningful way. At first Christopher worried he wouldn’t connect with his learner, but the worry quickly proved to be unfounded. Saw and Christopher connected quickly.
Favorite Moments: Culture Exchange
During their sessions together, Saw is teaching Christopher about his home country, Myanmar, and its culture and language. Saw has shared many of his own traditions, and recently invited Christopher to attend a New Year’s ceremony at his church.
It was there that Christopher enjoyed food native to Myanmar and observed a tradition of dancing between different groups of families. Christopher noted that each family had specific colored smocks, just as the Scottish have their tartans for different clans. Saw made sure that Christopher felt included, gifting him a smock with the colors of his own family.
Successful Tutoring Activities: Expanding Vocabulary
When planning his tutoring sessions, Christopher likes to let Saw drive the conversation and lesson based on his questions and immediate needs.
For example, a few months ago Saw was applying for a new apartment. Christopher and Saw practiced filling out different applications and discussed things like moving costs, informing his internet provider of the move, and renters' insurance. Because Saw and Christopher have built up a relationship with good rapport, Saw feels comfortable asking his tutor about language and topics he encounters in his everyday life.
Each session, Saw brings questions he has about daily life in the United States or questions about words or phrases. Christopher brings his computer to their sessions and uses this as a resource when they are exploring phonetics and deeper meanings of these words and phrases.
Their work together is having an impact. Saw has moved from a low beginning level to a high intermediate level over the past year.
Interested in being a Literacy Center tutor? Learn more at a volunteer orientation. Sign up online or by calling (616) 459-5151. If you're a current tutor looking for additional resources, contact your Literacy Coordinator.