Cultural Orientation Doubles as Welcoming Community
After a year in operation, the IRC Silver Spring’s Cultural Orientation (CO) program has provided orientation and training to hundreds of refugees and asylees during their first several months in the United States. The program still covers the same core subject areas that are essential to refugees’ success in their new country – transportation, geography and climate, the role of their resettlement agency, public assistance, U.S. laws and safety, finances, housing, and health – but the trainings are constantly being revised and refined to better serve participants’ needs. Lessons have been tailored to address most frequently asked questions and suit each language and cultural group’s unique background and interests.
Photo taken by IRC intern.
CO Coordinator Katherine Rehberg reviews questions asked by participants from Myanmar (also known as Burma)
Over the last few months we’ve developed a new “psychosocial framework” – a collection of lesson plans designed to encourage participants to recognize and build social connections, exercise creativity and flexibility, cultivate optimism and persistence, and practice healthy stress management.
What does the framework look like in practice? In one lesson, the facilitator and participants stand in a circle. Each person takes a turn standing in the middle of the circle and voicing concerns or opinions about the topic to be discussed during the rest of the day’s class. Other participants who feel similarly step into the circle together. The lesson helps build community and highlight commonalities among the group, allowing participants to discover that their feelings are often shared.
Photo taken by IRC intern.
Lessons are also designed to be interactive and allow participants to practice important skills in a supportive environment.
Another lesson called “Defining Myself” asks participants to answer the question, “What would the dictionary say about me?” Each student takes a few moments to think about how they define themselves. Many participants start by thinking about country of origin or status as a refugee, but through discussion participants identify their many other characteristics: religion, language, employment or educational history, hopes, fears, and personality traits. In a recent class, an Iraqi woman and an Eritrean man realized that they had many things in common – both enjoyed learning new languages, wanted to be teachers in the future, and shared similar experiences that caused them to leave their home countries.
As our Cultural Orientation program continues to provide training about life in America, we are excited about the psychosocial framework and our increased capacity to support our inspirational clients. To support Cultural Orientation or any other Silver Spring programs, click here.