Realizing A Dream: Theresa Hsieh Works with Refugee Children

by Emma Epstein

Realizing A Dream: Theresa Hsieh Works with Refugee Children

Theresa Hsieh (BA sociology, '08) began participating in community service at the age of ten when she volunteered at a soup kitchen. Then, at age twelve she organized a clothing drive for homeless children in Louisvile, where she was living. She continued such community action throughout her high school and college career, devoting considerable time and energy to her passion: working with refugee children. For her community involvement along with her outstanding academic performance in sociology, Hsieh was awarded one of the first Dean’s Challenge Awards, a scholarship of $2,000.

A second generation American, Hsieh found what she considers her true calling during her first few years of college. After volunteering with campus groups at the University of Louisville, where she began her college career, she secured a position through the work-study program in which she began tutoring refugee children at the Americana Community Center.

“That was a pivotal time in my life. When I began working there, I started to feel energized and refreshed,” Hsieh said. “Americana helped me realize who I wanted to be and my dream in life.”

However, Hsieh found herself feeling stifled by the small size of the school and decided to move back to Virginia and join many of her high school friends at Mason. “After moving to Virginia, I immediately began to feel the energy that I had been missing in Louisville and knew that Mason was the right place for me to live, grow, and learn,” she said.

She supported herself financially throughout college and, when she first moved to Virginia, Hsieh accepted a job as a legal assistant. The position did not fulfill her true passions. After a few initial volunteer positions aiding at-risk children, ESL students, and victims of domestic violence, Hsieh eventually found the Catholic Diocese of Arlington-Migration and Refugee Services (CDA-MRS). After extensive communication with the volunteer coordinator, she was offered a paid position as the Alexandria City Refugee Student Liaison.

Hsieh said that her sociology coursework correlated perfectly with her work in the community. “Through my sociology courses, I have learned valuable ideas and lessons that have helped me more effectively work with people of different cultures, languages, countries, ethnicities, classes, and ages,” she said. “It is because of sociology that I am pursuing my dream of working with refugee students.”

After graduation, Hsieh hopes to continue her work with refugee students, especially with the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington. “I don't think there is anything else I would rather do,” she said. “This job has been the most challenging, rewarding, and difficult job I have ever had. I love it. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life.”

Better than any award, though, for Hsieh, are the connections she forms with the children she helps. She said she still keeps in contact with several of the refugee children she first worked with in Louisville.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I miss their wildness,” she said. “I could guarantee that I would get punched, kicked, or have a book thrown at me at least twice a week. That was the fun of it. Though the kids were a completely wild and out of control, I really enjoyed working with and building a relationship with them. By the end of the year, I knew I really helped them grow as individuals.”

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