Soon after Lynn K. Trever—a member of the dining staff at Harvard’s Greenhouse Café—first came to the U.S., she found herself toiling for 16 hours a day while eight months pregnant.
A native of Cambodia, Trever began working at the age of eight and says she often regretted not being able to obtain a better education in her youth.
But despite her exhausting work schedule and her lack of formal schooling, Trever decided she wanted to become an American citizen.
She recounted her tough path to citizenship in an inspirational speech at the Kennedy School last Tuesday, as she and 17 other Harvard employees were honored for passing their citizenship exams with help from Harvard undergraduate tutors.
These employees participated in the Citizenship Tutoring Program, which matches employees preparing for the citizenship test with volunteer student tutors. The free program is run collaboratively by the Institute of Politics and the Harvard Bridge to Learning and Literacy Program.
To Trever, who thanked the program repeatedly throughout her speech, Citizenship Tutoring made all the difference in allowing her to become a naturalized citizen.
A HELPING HAND
In the summer of 2002, the Bridge Program first began to tutor University employees who were hoping to obtain citizenship. In the fall of the following year, Russell M. Weinstein ’07 founded the Citizenship Tutoring Program in order to connect undergraduate students with employees preparing for the exam.
In its inaugural fall, the program started slow, drawing only about five volunteers. But in subsequent years, participation rapidly rose to include more than two dozen students.
One of the program’s key strengths lies in the fact that some of its staff are naturalized immigrants themselves.
Two of the Bridge Program’s liaisons to the undergraduate tutors—Tamara S. Suttle, the program coordinator, and Ana Roche-Freeman, an ESL instructor—immigrated from Barbados and Ireland and became citizens in 1998 and 2008, respectively.
Suttle and Roche-Freeman not only work with the undergraduate tutors during the year, but also perform tutoring duties during the summer.
They have a unique perspective on the apprehensions and fears that immigrants may face while taking the test.
“There are some questions that, if you don’t know English very well, are difficult to understand,” Roche-Freeman says.
The two have seen how the naturalization process has changed, even over the past few years.