Volunteer with a Passion for Teaching: Amy Rae Foss

When Amy Rae Foss first visited the International Book Club at International House, she had no idea how that decision would impact her life … or how she would ultimately impact the lives of so many immigrants and refugees working to make a better life for themselves in Charlotte.

Amy Rae Foss

Amy Rae Foss Volunteer Citizenship Instructor

Originally from Minnesota, Amy Rae ended up in North Carolina after a three year stint as a Middle School English/Language Arts teacher in Arkansas. She works now for a healthcare software company and travels extensively to train medical personnel.  Despite her hectic travel schedule, she always makes time to get back to Charlotte for her work as a Volunteer Instructor for Sunday afternoon Citizenship Classes. “I am actually rarely in Charlotte”, Amy explains. “There are times when I schedule my travel plans to get back to Charlotte just in time for Citizenship training, and then leave town again right after class.”

Why would Amy Rae make such a sacrifice in her travel plans? That’s easy for her to answer. “Education is something that I strongly value and I feel passionately that everyone – including people of all backgrounds – should have access to educational opportunities. Which is what I love about International House – it brings people together from all over our community and the world. ”

Citizenship Class with AmyAs much as her busy schedule requires a certain amount of personal sacrifice to prepare for her classes, Amy feels like she gets as much, if not more, in return from her students. “For me, the most rewarding thing about teaching is seeing the light bulb go off for someone – to see their excitement when they remember something and can apply it. At International House, this goes a step further when our Citizenship students actually become naturalized citizens and call or email me to let me know that they have passed! I love being a part of helping them accomplish it and celebrate all their hard work and success!”

Amy Rae also feels passionately that her students contribute significantly to the success of the greater Charlotte community. “Our students are from such diverse backgrounds and all their cultures, languages, traditions, etc. are beautiful. They add so much dimension and diversity to the Charlotte community.”

She also reminds us out that immigrants who ultimately achieve citizenship are able to contribute even more to their community. “Studies in Charlotte have shown”, Amy explains, “that adults who become naturalized citizens are better able to support their families financially and that their kids do better in school. I think that is such an important thing to remember. At International House, we help get them there.”

Issues concerning immigration in the United States often become highly charged political debates filled with numbers and statistics. In her position as a volunteer at International House, however, Amy Rae has the chance to see behind those numbers – to see the human face of hopes, dreams, struggles, fears, and the drive to preserve and protect family. “Some border towns have banned families from adopting/fostering kids from Central America. For many Americans, those are the only faces they see when they hear the word “immigrant”. People forget all the nations that immigrants come from, the struggles they have faced to get here, the hard work that they do, their kindness, and their compassion for people. It all comes down to stories. If people were to take a minute to talk to and listen, actually listen, to someone not born in the U.S. they would come to understand the person behind the title.”

In the end, Amy Rae is like most staff Amy Rae Foss in Classand volunteers at International House: she receives as much, if not more, than she gives. “There are so many students and classes that I’ve worked with who have created special memories and hold a special place in my heart. They are the most encouraging and grateful people that I encounter in any given week. ”

And would she recommend that others consider volunteering at International House? “Of course people should volunteer at International House! Where and when else can you meet people from such diverse backgrounds and learn from them? In our multicultural world, having the skills to interact with people from all over are increasingly important. It’s just such a rewarding and fulfilling experience.”

International House is fortunate to have hundreds of volunteers like Amy Rae – all doing their part to create a better life for our newest neighbors, our community, and ultimately – themselves. Thanks, Amy Rae!

Dedicated Tutor Helps Student Achieve Her Dream


Megan Mavity, Maricela Boyzo, and Priscilla Sawicki

Growing up in Mexico, Maricela Boyzo’s father believed that children should work and not go to school. So when she arrived in the USA as a young bride, not only could she not speak English, but she could also not read or write in her native Spanish.

After years of struggling with a new language, Maricela enrolled in International House’s English Tutoring program in 2011 and was paired with IH tutor Priscilla Sawicki. Priscilla is a retired school teacher who spent many years overseas, and has a keen appreciation for the difficulties faced by non-native speakers as they attempt to navigate the details of everyday life.

Within moments of their meeting, Priscilla realized that Maricela faced many more challenges than the typical student in IH’s English program. “Maricela told me that she had never been to school. She didn’t even know the alphabet. I realized within minutes that Maricela and I were going back to 1st grade.”

Despite the considerable obstacles, Maricela was determined to learn, and Priscilla was there to help her every step of the way. They met twice a week during that first year and their hard work paid off. “I would reinforce the lessons taught in the ESL class at International House” explains Priscilla. “We were really able to concentrate on what Maricela needed to do and needed to understand. At the end of that first year, she had the basics and wanted to move on to citizenship classes.”

Maricela again showed incredible determination and went through 8 cycles of citizenship training to prepare for her USCIS citizenship exam. Maricela had to prepare to answer from a list of 100 civics and history questions featured on the exam, be able to read English, and also be able to write a sentence in English.

After two years of preparation, Maricela was ready to take the exam. This time, however, she would have to be on her own – without her teacher and good friend to guide the way. Fortunately they had practiced so many times that Maricela knew exactly to expect. She was apprehensive, but philosophical. “Yes, I was a little bit nervous. It’s normal!” After the exam was finished, Maricela’s excited daughter called Priscilla to give her the good news that her mother had passed the exam! Then, just two days later, Maricela attended her naturalization ceremony and in June of 2014 became a U.S. citizen.

As a citizen, Maricela’s job prospects are considerably improved, and she can travel more freely back and forth to visit family in Mexico. Priscilla is confident that the real winner in this story is Charlotte. “Immigration is something we all talk about now, but this path to citizenship is long and difficult and expensive. When you have someone as motivated as Maricela to overcome incredible obstacles it is a pleasure to have her as a fellow citizen. Maricela will definitely be an asset to our community.”

Priscilla would also encourage others to join her as a tutor at IH. “This has been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done. Not only did I meet a really special person, but I helped her achieve her goal. It’s worth every minute. And the person you help is so appreciative.”

Maricela really is appreciative. With a huge smile and an arm wrapped around her friend she says, “A very good friend. I love her!”

Volunteer as a Home Host for Our International Visitors

International House is delighted to be hosting a group of Turkish judges and lawyers through the Charlotte School of Law (Aug 17-22) and a group of disability rights and healthcare advocates  from Georgia through the Open World Program  (Sept 19-27).

 As part of their experience in Charlotte, they are eager to spend time with American families, and we are seeking families and individuals to host these distinguished guests.   It’s a wonderful way to experience new cultures and make friends from around the world!

Home Hosts - CopyIn addition, we will soon host nine high school Youth Ambassadors from Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia who will visit Charlotte through the Youth Leadership Program between September 5th and 17th.  Their program will focus on youth empowerment, environmental leadership and public speaking.

We will need families with teenagers to home host during this time.  Hosting teens are welcome to participate in all meetings and workshops.  Our experience with past Youth Ambassadors has been delightful – expect  energy, smiles, and laughter, and lots of cultural exchange!   This is a highly selective program and each of our visitors are highly accomplished teenagers.

Individuals and families  serving as host families will assist with transportation on the weekdays with drop-offs at International House around 9:00 am and pick-ups around 5:00pm (carpools can be arranged) as will also provide breakfast and dinner.  A Home Host Orientation will be arranged prior to your guest’s arrival.

For further questions or to volunteer as a home host, please contact Johnelle Causwell at jcauswell@ihclt.org  (704) 342-2248 ext. 121.

For more information, click >>here.  Thank You!



Volunteer Spotlight: Micky Fukasawa

Our wonderful volunteer, Mickey Fukasawa!

Our wonderful volunteer, Micky Fukasawa!

Volunteers continue to play an integral part in International House’s success, and one volunteer in particular has stood out over the years, Micky Fukasawa.  Micky has been volunteering at International House for almost ten years; she started soon after moving from Japan to the United States in 2003.  She has taught both English and Japanese in Japan and worked at a travel agency for six years, while visiting thirty-one countries around the world.  Additionally, she was a coordinator at the International Internship Program.  She considers International House the perfect place for her interests and has done numerous tasks for our organization.  Currently, she volunteers every Friday at International House and attends Queens College, while giving piano lessons at home.

Read our inspiring interview with Micky, below!

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Micky Fukasawa.  I am from Japan, but have lived in Charlotte for ten years.  I came to the United States because of my husband’s job.  I have a daughter and a son.  I have no other family or relatives in the United States.  When I first came to Charlotte, I wanted to get closer to the community, find my niche and make friends who share the same interests as mine.  International House is the perfect place to know about the community for a newcomer and to meet people from all over the world.

Tell us about your work with International House.

I have worked in the administration department regularly, while also giving many singing performances at events such as at the Volunteer Appreciation Night, the Gala, and the Language Conversation Hour Party.  Additionally, I was a lecturer at A Taste of Tea and Zen ceremony and a presenter at several events such as the ImaginOn Bilingual Storytime, Kids Health Link, and Children’s World of Play.  Furthermore, I have been part of the organizing staff of several events that International House participated in, such as the Dragon Boat Festival, UNCC International Festival, International Fashion Week, and the Bastille Day Festival.

What do you like about volunteering for International House?

I keep trying to assimilate to the American life.  On the other hand, when I come to International House, I feel comfortable with being an immigrant because people there are open to unfamiliar cultures and can empathize with someone from another culture.  International House is a safe environment to me.  I feel good knowing that my volunteer work is valued.  I am glad to help International House’s mission to move forward.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned while volunteering at International House?

I am not the only one who has struggled with blending in a different social life here in the United States.  One might feel intimidated, embarrassed, resentful or confused in their daily life, but they keep moving forward.  This type of thinking empowers me and makes me stronger.

Micky continues to be an instrumental part of International House’s success, and we thank her for everything she has done and continues to do for us!