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A Genuine Desire to Help: An Interview with Nikhil Puri

Nikhil Puri teaching ESL to a a full house. Photo: Emira Habiby Browne.

Last Thursday was International Volunteer Day, when we celebrate those who give their time, energy, and spirit to provide our clients with direct services. CIANA is proud to have so many volunteers on our team who are dedicated to improving the lives of immigrants in the Queens community.

Every Thursday since November, Nikhil Puri has volunteered to teach English as a Second Language to our clients. Nikhil reflects on his experience as a volunteer teacher with our VISTA, Micah Dicker.

Micah Dicker: What motivated you to volunteer here at CIANA?

Nikhil Puri: I think it was really the opportunity to engage with people from a wide range of places, to learn about their experiences and try and help them transition to life in America more seamlessly.

MD: How did you hear about CIANA?

NP: I heard about CIANA online while looking online for this kind of opportunity.

MD: How did your own personal background influence your desire to volunteer in the community?

NP: My background does influence my desire to engage in this kind of work, in that I’ve been a migrant myself, so I understand the process that’s involved in trying to find a new home in a new place. So in that sense I also have some experience that I can leverage apart from just the language skill, of course.

MD: Where are you originally from?

NP: I grew up in Belgium, then I moved to India, so that was “migration 1.” Then I came to the U.S. later on, so that was another chapter in my journey.

MD: When did you come to the U.S.?

NP: For college initially, so that was in 2003. Then I moved back to Europe and Asia for a few years for work, and then I came back again in 2015.

MD: How did you first decide to teach English?

NP: I don’t think I decided to teach English. I just wanted to sort of engage with people who moved quite recently, and teaching them English seemed to be appropriate and it seemed to work out since that’s what’s in demand.

MD: Did you have to go through training to teach people English?

NP: Not formal training, but I do believe I’ve sort of had some de facto training over the years in that I’ve studied myself and used the language in different contexts.

MD: How long have you been teaching?

NP: I haven’t been teaching very long. This is my first teaching opportunity.

MD: Oh wow, cool! What do you think has been a rewarding experience in your time volunteering at CIANA?

NP: The most rewarding experience is seeing that students come voluntarily, which conveys a strong desire to learn. It’s through their own initiative, and I enjoy the fact that you can see people asking questions and trying to pick up new language skills, and you see them conversing with one another and helping each other out. I think CIANA provides a nice setting for them to try and improve their skills and transition.

CIANA is always looking for volunteer tutors for our after school programs, volunteer grantwriters, accounting assistants, and more. Visit our volunteer listings page to learn and to apply.

Thank you to all our volunteers, past and present, who make CIANA a welcoming space for immigrants to learn, grow, and succeed in the United States.

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