A Surprise Reunion

As a student, Douglas (2nd from left) was a regular part of a
Reflection Circle that Jeff facilitated, as well as many potluck meals
(where he would introduce us to Chinese cuisine).

by Jeff Druery

Student Open Circles Program Staff

“Hello Jeff, How are you? It's been a really long time. I’m wondering if you have time to meet.” When I received this e-mail, I hadn’t seen Douglas in 10 years. He had moved home to China immediately after graduating and now he was returning for the first time.

Over coffee, Douglas updated Marybeth and me on his life, explaining that he’s been teaching English since graduating. He described how he has been volunteering his own time to run a group for conversation practice outside of class time, where he makes an effort to entice his students to discuss meaningful topics. “They want to talk about shopping, which I think is very boring,” he said. “I ask them the kinds of questions we discussed in Open Circle, like challenging the assumptions of consumerism, or how to have healthy relationships.”

When we were saying our goodbyes, he told us how grateful he is for the feeling of community he experienced in Open Circle and that he is still applying these lessons with his students, trying to give them a similar experience of belonging. He repeated it a few times, wanting to impress on us that he would not be doing these things for others if he hadn’t received so much when he was a student.

In Student Open Circles we make a special effort to be hospitable to everyone. Including international students doesn’t happen by accident. Dealing with language barriers requires intentional effort and patience. Douglas’ English was not nearly as fluent then as it is now; I was surprised and delighted to find out how much those long-ago discussions have influenced his values. It’s inspiring to sense his obvious care for his students. It affirms for me how powerful it is when someone is welcomed into a caring, open, and supportive community. Whether it’s including a wide diversity of students in our reflection circles, or welcoming a newly arrived refugee family in one of our volunteer groups, the acceptance that is woven throughout Student Open Circles changes people; it has ongoing reverberations as they find their place and then give back to others.