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Teaching English Connects Service to Family for Two DePaul Students

Alex Petrus' and Christian Alba’s families come from opposite sides of the world—from Greece and Mexico, respectively—but they both understand what it’s like to watch their parents struggle to communicate in a new country.

“My mom came here with her family, and my grandparents didn’t really speak English. It was hard enough trying to support a family, let alone not being able to speak the language,” said Alex.

That’s why participating in Achieving Immigrant Rights and Equality (AIRE)—an organization through the DePaul Community Service Association (DCSA)—appealed to both of them. They knew firsthand the impact that speaking English can have. So on Fridays, Alex and Christian head to Erie Community House in the Chicago neighborhood of Little Village to converse with immigrants who are learning the language.

“In the U.S., if you don’t speak English, it can be difficult to do anything—go to the store, go to the doctor. By helping them learn to speak English, it empowers them,” said Christian.

They both began tutoring English as part of a service requirement for DePaul scholarships they received, but after their commitments were satisfied, they continued on. In addition to their personal connection to AIRE, they felt deeply connected to the group.

“I love the AIRE community,” said Christian, “We’re a family. We have consistent members, many of which aren’t a part of DCSA or scholars and aren’t required to do service, but they continue doing it because we feel like we belong.”

And their participation has made an impact on their lives beyond the feel-good aspect of giving back—it’s provided them with an opportunity to learn valuable skills outside of traditional classes.

“My experience at DePaul has exposed me to different things besides school,” said Alex,  “When you’re tutoring, you have to improvise and over time you learn how to communicate more clearly and you develop a strategy to teach people. These skills will help me in any future career.”