Nana Owuso-ofori Created Intercultural Cafe During an Internship and Expands it During AmeriCorps VISTA Service
Nana Owuso-ofori ’22 is part of the 2022 AmeriCorps VISTA summer program, which places civic-minded individuals in summer positions that address community needs.
As an AmeriCorps summer associate, Nana has been able to grow the Intercultural Cafe, which she established on Russell Sage College’s Troy campus during her fall 2021 internship with Assistant Professor and Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement Ali Schaeffing, Ph.D.
“The cafe is a safe space for students and resettled refugees to make friends and practice conversational English,” said Nana.
About 10 English language learners and five English speakers — including students, professors and volunteers with organizations like Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County or the Refugee Welcome Center in Albany — attend each cafe.
The learners can choose from a few different tables for light refreshments, an informal activity and English language conversation. Popular tables include Civics Flash Cards for those preparing for the U.S. citizenship test, puzzles and embroidery projects.
Basic English language instruction is also available, said Nana.
When the cafe launched, it was offered once a week on Sage’s Troy campus.
This summer, Nana has added two additional meetings at the Refugee Welcome Center in Albany and is exploring offering a fourth option on Sage’s Albany campus.
More meeting locations and times mean more flexibility for English language learners, she said.
Nana graduated from Sage in May with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, Law and Behavioral Science.
She said that she regularly applied what she learned in writing and legal research classes to establish and run the Intercultural Cafe.
“Having the chance to set up the Intercultural Cafe has been a great way to develop my leadership skills,” she said, “and it helped me work on my people skills and get comfortable talking to large groups.”
When Nana’s AmeriCorps commitment concludes, she will pass her leadership role on to Noora Ahmed ’23, with whom she has worked closely on the cafe and other service projects to support refugees.
“Having the chance to develop this affinity space has just been fantastic and made my time at Sage that much more worthwhile,” continued Nana, who plans to work for a year or two in the Albany area, then apply to law school or a graduate program in Psychology.
She expressed gratitude to everyone at Sage who helped make the Intercultural Cafe a success, especially the Institutional Advancement Office, which helped her identify funding opportunities; the Facilities team, which helped make the Spirituality Center on the Troy campus a comfortable meeting spot; and the faculty, staff and students who regularly participate as English conversation partners.
“If you feel comfortable enough to start the work, there will be people that will help you throughout the process, and help you keep it going,” Nana said. “That’s been really nice to learn.”