This is the first time I have published a “Guest Blog” and I am happy to share the following helpful 1st hand information on the refugee experience that I will never have.
– authored by Senait Abraha
Moving to a new country and integrating to a new culture has always been challenging even under the best conditions. New Immigrants need to learn English quickly, so they can communicate, look for a job, housing, and to settle down. The need to master a tremendous range of skills from communication to building a support system from scratch, along with their confidence can be challenging, all while figuring out the norms and values of the US culture.
Rebuilding your life from scratch can be a lonely endeavor, one that may force new immigrants to make difficult decisions every day with limited information. While sorting through these challenges, eventually every new immigrant runs headfirst into a problem they haven’t encountered before; the kind that leaves them unsure of where to start.
Today, we can all agree we are not living our lives in the best of conditions. With an administration which is changing immigration laws these past few years, the world turning upside down with COVID spread and restrictions, with huge, angry, political discussions around us, riots, and talk and debate about racism. With so much going on it feels like someone pulled the rug out from under our feet, leaving us with a sense of uncertainty and chaos. These unprecedented times are particularly challenging for any immigrant.
For new immigrants trying to settle down, and to culturally integrate into US culture with a future that is more cloudy than clear, it is an ultimate test of resilience. The dynamics new immigrants face are magnified many times over. And if you are new to this country and you are reading this, I really empathize with you.
In my experience the best safety net is the wisdom of our community around us. For a few months now, I have witnessed different community leaders trying and continuing to navigate this crisis while supporting their communities. As with many others, I have also been working on navigating this crisis in relationship to my newborn baby, my work, my business, my nonprofit, my children’s school, my friendships, my family and my relatives abroad. I have learned a lot and continue to learn to surf this wave, which is why I decided to weave and put together these helpful guides to help new immigrants look past this cloudy uncertainty in order to focus on what is important.
1. Don’t take anything personally
Everyone in America is impacted by this crisis. In fact, the whole world is in chaos. Everyone is trying to figure out how to adjust their life to the uncertainty and when doing so, they might not be their own best self to support you, to be the rock that you need. You will see people complaining about their jobs, money, housing and everything else. This might discourage you from getting those things you need for yourself from scratch.
Since people are not in their best place, they might not realize how frightening the experience might be for you. Just know if others were in their best place and if it wasn’t for everything that is going on in this world, they might have been mindful in their interaction with you. So, don’t take it personally. They are not trying to make you unwelcome, or undermine your problems. So, don’t be afraid to remind them.
2. Remind people you are new
Like I said, most people might be panicking over everything right now and might not even be present to your feelings and confusions. So, remind people that you are new. Ask questions when you don’t understand, ask how things were for them when they first moved to the US, how they felt and dealt with issues. This may help bring them out of the current panic and might put them in the path of compassion for your circumstances.
3. Reach out to multiple community centers
This crisis is new for everyone, including companies, community centers, and government offices. Try reaching out to your community center, and see if they can support you in getting a job, housing, or any services that you need. Don’t get discouraged if your community might not be able to help, or might be able to help only partially. Perhaps they can refer you. Know that everyone is trying to do their best in this time of trial. So, reach out to other community centers and organizations that are involved in helping newcomers. Use Google to help you find the organizations that can help you. Or ask someone to help you find those resources. There is nothing wrong in finding resources from different organizations to maximize your chance to settle faster, but rather, it is smart.
4. Learn the language
I know, I know. With everything that is going on in these trying times, learning the language may be the last thing on your mind. However, the situation isn’t going to stay the same, and what you learn right now is going to pay off in the near future. Besides, it will take your mind off the current situation and your circumstances, which sometimes feels like too much.
One good thing about COVID is that most classes are offered online. So, find an online English class and learn from the comfort of your home or wherever you may be staying. While you are at it, if you don’t know how to use a computer or internet, now would be a good time to invest in a good computer that you can find for a reasonable price, and ask someone to help you enroll in computer class as well.
The Immigrantinfo.org ESL Class Listing has a searchable database classes currently offered by Santa Clara County Community Colleges, Adult Education, Community and Faith Based Organizations, most of which are free. Some of them might be able to help out with a loan of a laptop or tablet, or free internet connection. The Virtual ESL Programs in Immigrantinfo Resource Database contains over 60 additional links to free ESL programs.
5. Benefit from Government Assistance
There are many types of government assistance, and benefits from them. I know that President Trump said something about receiving benefits would disqualify you from getting your citizenship and that I can imagine will be very scary. However, this crisis is a unique situation where so many people in the USA are receiving government assistance. Proactively look for what you qualify for, and take advantage of the benefits you qualify for to alleviate your circumstances.
In actuality, the Public Charge Rule, as it is known, has no effect on the majority of immigrants, and refugees and asylees are specifically excluded. Also excluded are any COVID-19 related assistance or any other Disaster Relief in a declared emergency. Not everyone is eligible for every benefit, but if you are eligible, you should not be afraid to accept what you need for you and your family.
6. Seek mental health services
You might resist this tip. You might even say, “What? I am not crazy! I don’t need to go to a mental health professional.” No, you are not crazy and this is what I have heard from every immigrant when I talk to them about mental health. And yes, I have said this myself when I first heard it when I moved to live in China more than a decade and half ago.
Being new here, you will at one point or another feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, helpless, sad, fearful and all these feelings are so normal considering what you are going though in settling down in a new country. And to make matters worse, the crisis makes things more complicated and magnifies the situation. So seeking a mental health service is to your advantage. These professionals will help you gain skills that you will need to cope with your current situation. I know for a fact this could be the best gift you could give to yourself.
One blessing of the pandemic has been the formation the CADRE Spiritual and Emotional Support Team – a collaboration of community and faith based organizations that can provide an array of guidance and support. So many people have been suffering extreme stress for months. You will not be the first one to find that you are more resilient when you accept the resources that are available. You can access this team through the website www.CADRESV.org.
7. Stay away from negativity
It is so hard to stay positive when everything around is crumbling and you need to start building from scratch. It might even feel unfair. However, stay away from any negative thoughts that tell you, I can’t do it; I made a mistake coming here; Why do things like this always happen to me; My situation is helpless and it’s never going to get better. People entertain those thoughts when faced with challenging situations, however all those thoughts are simply not true.
Yes, your circumstances are difficult, no doubt about that, but nothing stays forever. Just keep working toward your goals, and before you know it things will fall into place.
While you are at it, stay away from people who always talk negatively about things, and who don’t usually seem to be happy.
Also, stay away from the media as much as possible. Its good to keep yourself informed. Just limit that to once a day, as the media can frighten any one with all the negative reports. Instead, go out in nature and relax when you get a chance, go visit new places you haven’t seen. I am sure finding new places to see wouldn’t be a problem for you since you are new here. Call a good friend that is willing to encourage you, watch a funny movie and have a good laugh, and pray to whatever God or higher power you believe in. All these activities will put you in a positive mind set. When you are positive, the hard work you are doing will not feel as daunting and you are much more likely to succeed.
8. Voice your opinion
When you are new, it’s natural to stay quiet and keep everything to yourself in fear of making a mistake. However, I know it is hard to believe, but you are smarter than you think, wiser than you know, and braver than you imagine. I know this because it’s something we all go thorough in the beginning of adjusting to a new environment, in a new country.
So, speak about the crisis, the politics around you, all the things that bother you and how you think things should be. Hey, the reason US opens to immigrants is because we bring fresh, organic ideas to the table. Who knows? What you say and your ideas might solve a problem or two in our crisis. Don’t forget all great immigrant inventors have started where you are today. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. Just voice your opinion. Recall that the US is a country of immigrants, so own it!!! And as soon as you can, register to vote!
Just know, these 8 tools are to help you navigate the crisis, and are just a few ideas. There are many other ways for you to find your way. If you have found any tools that are helping you, please share below so others can benefit from them.
Together we can overcome anything! Remember nothing stays forever. There is a saying in the US: “There is always a rainbow after the rain” and I say it’s also true that you can see the rainbow while it is raining.