Meet Gaulbert

IMG_0815 2Gaulbert Taplah is a Liberian, a one-time student activist who was forced to flee his homeland after being threatened, a resident of Charlotte, a graduate of CPCC, and  – thanks to the support of International House’s Ginter Immigration Law Clinic – he is now a U.S. citizen. Gaulbert moved to the U.S. in 2001 from Liberia, fleeing his homeland after he was threatened by government forces for speaking out against atrocities. He arrived in the U.S. and immediately began taking classes at CPCC. “If you want to excel in life, you have to go to school,” he says. He spent years seeking ways to attain U.S. citizenship, but simply could not afford it. Then, in 2014, he heard about International House from a friend. Within seven months of meeting with our attorneys, he was taking the oath of citizenship. “My life would be hectic and unstable (if it weren’t for International House),” he said. “I would work twice as hard to get to where I want to be. International House is stepping-stone to get to where you want to be. A week after I got my citizenship, I bought Anne (the International House attorney) flowers. It’s the least I can do.”

-Please donate to International House on #GivingTuesday and support Charlotte’s international community. International House opened more than 600 legal cases in 2015, but received more than 2,000 requests for assistance and was not able to serve everyone due to resource constraints. Your donations will help hundreds of people get legal assistance they could not otherwise afford in 2016. To donate please visit our website ( Any amount is appreciated and will add up to make a big difference in people’s lives.  Thank you.

I Feel Like I Travel While Volunteering Here

by Pauline Lefeuvre

Pauline puts up a bulletin board

Pauline puts up our summer bulletin board, which promotes Conversation Hours as cool ice cream treats!

I came from France to the United States last August as an exchange student to the University of Maine. I had only been in Charlotte for two weeks when I learned about International House and the volunteer opportunities. I’m happy to be here volunteering in the Front Office. Actually, I have two volunteer roles. I’m also an English Tutoring Program Coordinator. I help tutors and students on Thursdays.

I gladly accepted the Director of Education’s proposition to help with tutoring because, while in Maine, I helped a French teacher as an assistant in her classes and I really liked it so it was a pleasure to be able to help new tutors working with their students.

I came to Charlotte to get away from the cold weather in Maine. I like the International House mission. It’s a multidimensional approach to address the challenges faced by newcomers.

I really like the concept of trying to solve every problem an immigrant can face when arriving in a new country: immigration issues, language issues and integration in general.

I chose the Front Office in order to be in contact with clients because I like talking to people from different backgrounds. I also wanted to practice my language skills in English and Spanish. I speak French, so that helps, too!

I like being able to meet people from the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Mexico, Venezuela, Cote d’Ivoire, Korea (and a lot more) just by being behind the Front desk. I feel like I travel while working.

Editor’s Note: Pauline describes herself as a positive and dynamic person, always ready to learn new things and live the life to its fullest. This joie de vie includes playing soccer, running, biking, hiking, and learning new languages. She adds that her world traveling experience helped her learn to be more patient and relaxed. But her perfect day would be “waking up with a good orange juice, go jogging, have a nice shower and spend the day discovering a new city or region in a foreign country with some good friends. I would spend the evening eating Italian food and listening to bossa-nova music.” It sure sounds like she’s living life to its fullest! Merci, Pauline, for choosing International House to expand your intercultural experience!

Through your giving, you open doors to a new future and a better life for many in our community

June 2015

Dear International House Friend,

It’s the lazy, hazy days of summer, right?  Well, not exactly!  Our volunteers and staff are working hard as ever!  With this post I say “Thank You” for your past support.  And, I want to let you know that we are busy this month and aim to stay busy.  The goal for our summer fundraiser is $15,000 to support the work we will do this month and every month.  Will you help us? (For your convenience, we offer online giving options via our website.)

  • This month, 450 elementary school children begin Rising Readers, our summer literacy program. This collaborative project with CMS helps kids who are learning English as a second language maintain their English proficiency and stay on par with their peers. (I’ve included a photo of our 36 tutors. You can enjoy more photos on our Facebook page.)
  • This month, 115 adult students will learn English language and American civics from a cadre of volunteer tutors and staff. Some of these students are also clients of our Ginter Immigration Law Clinic and are applying for permanent residency or U.S. citizenship.
  • This summer, nine groups from 24 countries will meet with their professional peers here in Charlotte to learn best practices in a range of topics from the arts to accountability in government. Many will experience American home life, as guests of volunteer home hosts. Our Citizen Diplomacy program is aptly named since these visitors and their business and home hosts will create friendships that will change minds and lives across the globe.
  • This month, we’re planning the next installment of our Spring & Summer Film Fest. Jamaica for Sale will be the catalyst for facilitating a conversation about the impact of unsustainable tourism development. Our Young Professionals, Doorways for Women, and Book Club groups will continue their meetings. And don’t forget weekly Conversation Hours in nine languages!

But you already know what we do.  You are a donor and a friend.  And together, International House supporters like you help sustain programs that welcome immigrants, assist refugees, and engage all of us in meaningful cultural experiences.

School’s not out at International House! This summer, please consider a tax-deductible gift.

Gratefully, Rusty Reynolds, Acting Executive Director

PS     We respect that you have many choices for your community giving and hope that you will continue to invest in our programs. Through your giving, you open doors to a new future and a better life for many in our community who value friendship and celebrate culture.

Our 36 Riding Readers tutors for Summer 2015

Our 36 Riding Readers tutors are ready to get in the classroom!

Pura Vida-Learning From Costa Rica’s Sustainable Development Success

by Citizen Diplomacy Program Director at International House

With my job overseeing the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program for Charlotte and the surrounding areas at the International House, I get to meet a wide variety of interesting and knowledgeable individuals from all corners of the globe. One of the “perks” if you will, is the tremendous learning experience that comes with having tea with the guy who is responsible for the digitization of Zimbabwe’s Stock Exchange or discussing regional politics with a future candidate for the Mongolian Presidency. Every day I get to learn something new and extremely interesting, and after the learning, the inevitable slap of inspiration.

On this particular day, I was sitting in a conference room at the Charlotte Westin, eating grilled chicken and asparagus and listening to the most fascinating luncheon speech given by President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica, courtesy of the Charlotte World Affairs Council. As far as luncheon speeches go, this one was exceptional. He was not trying to fill the 15 or 20 minute obligation with the usual talking points given to diplomats and heads of state, he was speaking passionately about something that not only he believed in, but what was the mantra of an entire nation – Pura Vida. Translated it means Pure Life and represents the key to Costa Rica’s economic and political success.

Costa Rica is enjoying a rate of 3.02% in annual GDP growth. A growing economy coupled with a very stable government makes Costa Rica a stand out in the Central American Region. What’s the secret to the country’s success? It’s none of the usual suspects like manufacturing, energy or even off shore banking. Costa Rica has emerged as a world leader in eco-tourism. Yes, a country that designated 23.4% of its land area for national parks and protected sites (the largest in the world as a percentage of the country’s territory) now boasts one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment in Latin America. President Solis then went on to describe a government structure that very few countries could even dream of.

Costa Rica has become the first country in the modern world to constitutionally abolish its military, funneling the entire military budget into healthcare, education and physical infrastructure. For a country that is located in a previously volatile and politically unstable region, this is truly amazing. President Solis then astounded me even further when he said he would not run for re-election. I think I started to choke on a small piece of asparagus at this point. An incumbent politician who had no intentions of running for re-election… was there a scandal of some sort in the offing? Not at all. Costa Rica’s President cannot be elected for consecutive terms. This enables the President to act in the best interest of the country without seeking popularity; after all, he only has four years to cement his legacy.

I am by no means, making a statement that we need to do exactly what Costa Rica is doing. It would not work. But, we can learn from a successful case study in sustainable development. This is proof that economic growth does not have to come with a disastrous environmental cost. An entire country working together for “Pure Life” with a growing economy, a stable government with low corruption, and a focus on health and education. Instead of destroying and overusing resources to increase profits, Costa Rica puts the focus on development and growth through preservation. Charlotte is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the nation and recently ranked number 4 on the Forbes list of “Happiest Cities for Young Professionals”. We need to work hard on keeping the happy balance with growth and quality of life. After all, we know that “Charlotte’s Got a Lot” and we have tremendous potential for expanding our tourism sector. We are living in a great city, in a great country, but every once in a while it’s good to get a slap of inspiration.

At left, Johnelle joins members of the Young Professionals @ IH board of directors at a networking event.

At left, Johnelle joins members of the Young Professionals @ IH board of directors at a networking event.


How to Create a Video in Two Months on Zero Budget


By: Meghan Green

Education Program Volunteer (2014, 2015)

Meghan_IHsignWhen I offered to create a video about two women who enjoy their jobs and want to introduce others to the world of AmeriCorps ACCESS, I knew that viewers would enjoy their stories. One, Tanja, recruits volunteers. The other, Amanda, trains and support volunteers who teach or tutor English as a Second Language. She also teaches ESL! Each woman is enthusiastic about her role, and so I was confident that Amanda and Tanja both would “act” effortlessly. My only hesitation was learning just how to be a director and film editor—I had never created a video in my life!

I started by playing with video editing software. When I first launched iMovie I didn’t even know how to create a new project. Caroline, who leads IH marketing initiatives, kindly pointed me to a few tutorial videos, but I was on my own. Here’s how I did it.

By doing some quick Google searches I figured out the basics. It was helpful to watch some of the films that International House had already put together for programs like Rising Readers. Coming in with no experience, that research helped set the tone for the AmeriCorps ACCESS video. I wanted it to convey International House’s mission, show some of the organization’s programs in action, and of course, attract applicants to the open positions.

Having interviewed both Tanja and Amanda earlier in the year for an issue of the Edu Crew Weekly Memo, I was looking forward to capturing their perspectives on film! Both of these women are so passionate about what they do, and I was inspired by their advice—I just knew that others would be, too. I had never done a film interview either, so that task had me a bit nervous as well! But, both Amanda and Tanja were great on camera and gave me some wonderful footage, all on the first try!

Once I got the interview footage, photos, and script together it was really just a matter of piecing it all together. It was, again, a lot of playing around with features and options in iMovie. This assignment challenged me to do something different and also introduced me to new people at International House. When the project started to resemble a film, I reached out to Tien Le, who was interning as the IH Community Resource Navigator at the time and is well known for her skills in video editing. She gave me tips on how to make it all work.

We’d never met before then, but she was fun to work with and her advice really made an impact on the final product! Once I became familiar with the software I really started to enjoy the project! Timing the transitions just right, adding photos taken at different events during the year, picking the best questions from the interviews, and recording the voiceover for the start of the film—creating something for International House had become less of a challenge and more fun!

When it was all finished I was grateful to have played even a small role in bringing other passionate people to International House’s cause. The completion of this AmeriCorps ACCESS video was the perfect end to my time as an Education Program Intern with this organization This project was exciting, challenging, and a fantastic learning experience all around! I can say the same of my volunteer experience as a whole.

 Editor’s Note:

Here’s Meghan’s premier video!

logo_AmeriCorpsWe’re accepting applications now for three AmeriCorps ACCESS positions for the 2015-2016 program year: English Tutoring Program CoordinatorCommunity Resources Navigator and ESL Education Coordinator.

AmeriCorps is a ONE YEAR COMMITMENT to learn and serve. Part-time positions pay a small stipend; quarter-time positions do not. For all positions, AmeriCorps members will earn a monetary award for education expenses. APPLY IN JUNE!

Consider it for yourself or refer a young adult. Get job descriptions here.

Citizen Diplomacy Volunteer Recognized As Emerging Leader

CDP Volunteer

Nina researches sites and activities for international visitors.

Nina Saralidze is at International House once or twice a week. She helps to write proposals that our Citizen Diplomacy Program (CDP) Director sends to the U.S. Department of State that invite international visitors to Charlotte.

When 15 high school youth ambassadors visited from Argentina and Chile in March and April, Nina helped to set up activities that promote youth empowerment, leadership and environmentalism.

She coordinated the many lunches needed for their 11-day stay. Along with Johnelle Causwell and Carole Ward, who staff our CDP office, Nina accompanied the youth group to The Great Smokey Mountains National Park and to Cherokee, NC. (Photos of the trip are posted on the CDP Facebook page.)

Nina is from Georgia, a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. “I want to be a diplomat,” she said. “Volunteering here is giving me some insight into my future career.”

In February 2015, Nina participated in the Emerging Leader Program that the State Department hosts in partnership with Global Ties U.S. and Hostelling International Washington, DC. She met with leaders in the field of public diplomacy and attended workshops on topics including cross-cultural understanding, communications and human rights. She attended embassy receptions and met U.S. ambassadors.

“I was truly honored to have been chosen to represent Charlotte,” Nina said about her experience as a Global Ties Rising Leader.  “It was a great experience and it opened my eyes to new possibilities.”

Muslim Community Leaders On Recent Events, Middle East

Charlotte Talks on WFAE – Friday, May 1

“Middle East conflicts, the rise of ISIS and the wooing by the Islamic State of young people in the U.S. and around the world is certainly cause for concern – not for violence here at home. Yet in Charlotte, Chapel Hill and elsewhere around the country there have been violent incidents some view as hate crimes – specifically aimed at Muslims. We sit down with a local Muslim leader, an author and a visiting scholar to get their perspective on recent events.” Mike Collins, Charlotte Talks Host

Dr. Abdelmahdi Al-soudi – Visiting Scholar, UNC Charlotte Department of Religious Studies; Professor of Political Sociology and Middle East Studies, Jordan University

Sam Wazan – Author of Trapped in Four Square Miles; Board Member, International House; Global Trustee, United Religions Initiative; Chair, Charlotte Cooperation

Nael Abodabba – Chairman, Islamic Center of Charlotte; President, A2Z Cash & Carry


Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins is a regional forum for the discussion of politics, growth, the arts, culture, social issues, literature, human interest and the environment.

I Feel Proud That I Have Helped Other Immigrants Like Me

Anggie in Rome at Fontana de Trevi.

Anggie in Rome at Fontana de Trevi.

By: Anggie Fernandez
Ginter Law Clinic Volunteer

My name is Anggie Fernandez, and I am from Lima, Peru. I came to the USA one year ago and started attending the English Conversation Hour at International House. I was looking for a place where I could improve my English skills. There, I met many people from all over the world, with a diversity of backgrounds, culture, and languages. English Conversation Hour helped me in improving my English skills. It was also a place to meet very nice people and make new friends.

Right after getting in touch with International House, I started volunteering in the Ginter Immigration Law Clinic. I wanted to get more involved with International House´s mission. Supporting its legal team made me feel productive and very proud that I have helped other immigrants like me to get integrated within the community of Charlotte.

My personal experience with the legal team of International House has helped me not only to start new professional challenges, but also to acquire knowledge, improve my English, and develop my vocation of service to the community.

I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity that I had with International House, and I hope many more people will be encouraged to be part of this adventure!

Editor’s note: Anggie is a former volunteer. International House staff members are grateful for her past service. We also thank Anggie for encouraging more people to participate in programs as both learners and volunteers.

Incredible Odyssey Ends in Citizenship for IH Client

When Mathew Mayom went to take his naturalization exam to qualify for U.S. citizenship, he wasn’t nervous at all. After being forced to flee war-torn South Sudan, living in exile in Cairo, and then spending 5 years trying to reunite with his wife here in Charlotte, he was not going to let one test upset him.

Mathew Mayom

Mathew Mayom stands in front of the Charlotte office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after being sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

“I was ready,” Mathew explained with a smile. “This exam did not make me nervous because I have been in much worse situations!”

Mathew and his wife Teresa grew up in South Sudan knowing only war. The Second Sudanese Civil War ebbed and flowed across their homeland from 1983 until 2005. During that time, the turmoil and unrest became too much for their respective families, and they both ended up as refugees in Egypt. Although they were from the same part of Sudan, they did not meet until after they arrived in Cairo. While in Egypt, they got married and soon had their first child.

But theirs was not to be a simple “and they lived happily ever after” story. Not long after they were married, Teresa received a U.S. visa to join her mother and brother in Charlotte. She left for the U.S. seeking safer conditions and a better future for the couple’s young child. Mathew, however, had no family connections in the U.S. and he was left behind with only the hope that he could work through the immigration process to someday join his wife in Charlotte. A process that would ultimately take years to complete.

“It is hard to be away from your family. Not knowing where they are or how they are doing,” he explained.

For five years, Mathew and Teresa worked diligently to be reunited. During that time, Teresa earned U.S. citizenship and became a client of the International House Immigration Law Clinic. Working with Anne Crotty and Jelena Giric-Held, she petitioned the U.S. government for visa for Mathew. After two years of forms, paperwork, and filings, they were finally able to secure a green card for Mathew and he arrived in Charlotte in 2010.

The law clinic’s work was not done however. There were legal procedures with his permanent residence card that had to be followed after he arrived in the country and then, together, they tackled the last hurdle — getting U.S. citizenship for Mathew.

“It was an amazing thing”, recalls Mathew. “They helped me with the fee waiver for the naturalization fee. Jelena gave me a study guide and tested me to make sure I was ready.” And on the day of the exam, Jelena went with Mathew for moral support.

Mathew passed the exam easily and one week later, at the Charlotte office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. That naturalization ceremony completed an odyssey that had begun nearly 15 years earlier.

“To become a citizen of the US is a huge opportunity. Especially for me because I am trying to pursue my education. It will allow me to compete for different and better jobs. As a citizen you have all opportunities open in front of you.”

Life is looking up for Teresa and Mathew these days. They have three children now and Mathew thanks IH for helping make that possible. “I’m happy to have my wife and kids with me everyday now. I am grateful to the Law Clinic for reuniting me with my family. They do a great job for a lot of people.”

Mathew’s eyes sparkle as he talks about his new life in Charlotte, and he flashes the wide contented smile of a man who has finally arrived home after a long and arduous journey.

New Friends for a New Year

Want a New Year’s Resolution that will be easy to keep?   Consider resolving to make a new friend this year, a friend from a country that is different from your own. International House can help!DSC03196

Make plans to attend the “Get to Know You” potluck lunch on January 7 offered by Doorways, our monthly social group for international women, or come hear retired Winthrop University professor (and member of our French Conversation Hour) Roger Baumgarte speak about his book, “Friends Beyond Borders”, on January 13. (There is more info on these events in this newsletter issue.) Check out one of our free Conversation Hours. This is a great way to make a new friend AND make good on your resolution from last year to practice a new language!

Or how about taking the plunge and hosting one of our international visitors?  It is absolutely one of the best options for exploring new cultures and friendships without leaving home!  After hosting these delightful folks in my spare bedroom for a few days over the past 4 years, I am grateful to still be in touch with Gauhar (Kazakhstan), Hina (Pakistan), Gia (Georgia), Kosalai (Sri Lanka), Naheed (Bangladesh), Sylvana, and Shokh (Iraq).  We enjoyed cooking together, seeing the Charlotte sights, and chatting into the evening about topics ranging from family to fashion, politics to pets, and social media to soccer.  I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to get to know these inspirational leaders who offer me different ways of viewing this remarkable world that we share.

It is also easy to make an international friend by volunteering to be a tutor for someone learning English or attending our Sunday citizenship classes.  This is a rewarding way to not only make a difference in someone’s life but also learn about the rich cultural diversity that makes Charlotte an increasingly global city.

Woodrow Wilson said: “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”  Why not resolve to make a new international friend in 2015?  It is a small but effective way to help hold this fragile world together!

Denise Cumbee Long
Executive Director, International House