International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC in Silver Spring Cultural Orientation Program – Up and Running!

Since offering its first training in August 2011, 84 refugees resettling in the Silver Spring region have received intensive training through the IRC’s Cultural Orientation Program.  The refugees participating in this program are not just those resettled by IRC, but rather include individuals from Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) as well. Sessions have been held in Tigrinya, Amharic, Arabic, Swahili, Nepali, Burmese, French, and Farsi, and have been facilitated with the use of trained, in-person interpreters. Each CO session covers topics including: transportation, resettlement assistance, public benefits, US laws, emergencies and safety, budgeting, housing, and health.

Cultural Orientation Coordinator, Katherine Rehberg, teaching a student  Financial Literacy

At the beginning of each session, participants are asked, “What do you want to know about life in America?” During a November session offered in Nepali, Narayan Gurung and his wife Maya* shared many questions and concerns. “How do I find a job?” “What do I do if I get lost on the bus?” “How do I ask someone for help if I’m lost on the street?” “How much can I buy with a dollar?” Having spent the last decade living in a refugee camp in Nepal, the couple was eager to begin rebuilding their life in America, together with extended family and friends also resettled in the Washington, DC area. The adjustment process was harder than they had first expected, though, as the couple struggled with unfamiliar aspects of US life and culture. In spite of their family’s assistance, they faced challenges accessing the healthcare system, managing their money, using their Food Stamp benefits to purchase groceries, and figuring out how to use household appliances. Their limited English proficiency, lack of transferrable employment skills, and illiteracy exacerbated these difficulties, and the couple voiced their frustration and sadness at their significant challenges.

Narayan and Maya were active CO participants, sharing their experiences and problem solving with other newly-arrived families. They practiced saying their address aloud and counting American coins. They slowly came to understand the differences between the different organizations working together to provide their resettlement services, and by the end of the session had gained confidence navigating the complexities of American life.

Families like Narayan and Maya, and the many other refugees and asylees being served by the IRC in Silver Spring, are gaining these important skills and learning valuable information through the Cultural Orientation sessions. Though the many questions they bring can be complex and challenging, CO participants bring extensive experience and an unparalleled desire to succeed to class. Their willingness to learn, share, teach and grow together enables them to accelerate and deepen their understanding of their new life in America.


*Clients names have been changed for confidentiality