Maya Hamilton ’16 Stays with Rwandan Family for Senior Project


The homestay and working with ELL students has been an amazing experience, I’ve learned so much from it. I hope many other students will take advantage of this opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture without having to worry about travel and expenses! It really is worth it, all you need is the willingness to learn, and luckily we as Waynflete students already have that, so go for it! 🙂

  1. Experiential Learning

Tell a story: what stands out to you (event, person, interaction, experience)? Why?

It is hard to pick one experience that stood out, but if I had to choose I’d say getting to experience the family’s dedication to their religion. It seemed that Christianity is their main focus in everyday life (as opposed to focusing on their past etc.), and I really appreciated listening to their beliefs and experiences being a Christian and what it means to them. Through the church services, youth groups, bible reading, and prayers, I was able to see just how meaningful and crucial Christianity was to them, and it allowed me to be more open and understanding of the christian faith, because before I had had no exposure to it, or any other. It was beautiful to see what God and their faith does for them, and if it wasn’t for this experience of living with them, I probably wouldn’t have learned about these aspects of their religion.

What did you discover/learn about refugee/immigrant resettlement that you had not known from your readings and that you could only learn by actually being here?

There is a lot you can learn about immigrant resettlement from readings, but there is no way to feel the emotion and personal connection through readings, that only comes from actually being there and talking to them and listening to their story in person. And for me, that human to human connection is crucial when learning about refugee and immigrant resettlement, so if you want to learn about it, going and talking to people in Adult Education, or doing a homestay will help you better understand the struggles they endure.

What has it been like living with the people with whom you stayed?

It has indeed been an invaluable experience for me, for many reasons. I have learned so much from this family who has been nothing but generous and welcoming the whole time I’ve been there. I’ve learned how lucky I am to have a working dishwasher, because having to wash dishes by hand for a family of six takes more time out of their day than it would for someone who has a dishwasher. I’ve learned how lucky I am to be able to go to sleep at night, and have breakfast in the morning, because the mother works night shifts three to four times a week and comes back late morning without being able to eat while she’s there. I’ve learned how lucky I am to drive or get driven to where I need / want to go whenever I want for the most part, because sometimes the boys would have to miss an event because the car wasn’t available since the mom might be giving their friend/neighbor a ride who doesn’t even have a car. I’ve learned another meaning of hard work, and selfless work, like when the boys helped set up Junior prom all day Saturday when they weren’t even going to it, while the people who are going to prom don’t even show up to help set up and then complain about it. I’ve learned another meaning of community and togetherness, seeing how their neighbors and friends are like family. I’ve learned how lucky I am to have food everyday and have the option to eat whenever I’m hungry, because in their family they don’t waste a single bite. Besides that, I have enjoyed getting to know each person, playing with the little ones, and just having fun!

What did you see or understand differently as a result of your experience?

As a result of my experience there, I better understand Christianity and what it does for their family and them individually. Talking with them has also given me major perspective on transitions, because personally I’ve always struggled with transitions big or small in my life, but the transitions they’ve had to go through are just astounding in comparison, and I have so much respect for them, to have to get through those transitions with such courage and determination. They have also put loss and hope in perspective for me, it is nearly incomprehensible the horrors and loss the mother has experienced (as well as the girls I talked to at Adult Education), and yet her hope and faith shines through it all, and for me it is inspiring to say the least. If she survived what she did and is as present and hardworking as she is today, I can get through any obstacles, we all can!

  1. Uncomfortable Learning

When were you uncomfortable during the Westbrook experience (and why)?

There was never a time when I felt uncomfortable, there was a time when I didn’t necessarily agree with what someone was saying, but that is part of the learning experience and I was able to listen with an open mind and understand where they’re coming from.

What did you not like (and why)?

There was nothing that I didn’t like, rather I liked getting out of my normal and comfortable daily routine to learn and live theirs instead.

What have you learned from any discomfort or dislike you had during the program?

Although there wasn’t any discomfort or dislike, the experience overall reiterated the importance of living with and appreciating each other’s differences.

  1. Personal Impact

What personal beliefs or values of yours were confirmed or changed?

I saw my personal beliefs and values in their religion even though I’m not a Christian, and I saw it through their generosity and humbleness as a family. I value being open and understanding, and that value is something that is key in this program.

Some students in school read about immigration, refugees, public education issues, etc; how would you compare or contrast what you have done and learned in this program living/working with hosts and school kids versus what you might have learned if there was only an on-campus classroom program?

The full immersion of the homestay and working in the elementary school is so important because you learn so much from living the experience. You get to hear people’s personal stories and get to know them, whereas if you were just learning about it in a classroom, you wouldn’t have that layer of connection.

As you return home and get ready to head to college, has anything changed in you from this program that may impact how you will pick your courses, activities, readings, or anything else, this summer or at college—how and why?

Yes! Now I want to work with ELL kids and adults even, which is something I hadn’t even thought of doing before. I also want to learn Arabic, and other languages too, when originally I just wanted to continue in Chinese. I hope that Waynflete and other high schools will start teaching Arabic as well. And finally, I want to learn more about social work and get high school students to get more involved with helping ELL kids as part of their language class!!

207.774.5721 | 360 Spring Street, Portland, Maine | Directions | My Waynflete