Adjusting Expectations: The Cultural Orientation Connection

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A guest post from Daryl Morrissey, LIRS Cultural Orientation Coordinator

The Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) mandates 15 topics for inclusion in pre-arrival CO and by all resettlement agencies upon refugee arrival in their new U.S. communities.

Employment is one of those topics.  PRM breaks those 15 topics into 64 required sub-topics. All of them are outlined in R&P Cooperative Agreements. For employment, there are six:

  1. Early employment and job retention are essential to survival in the U.S., and must be the primary focus for all employable adults (men and women).
  2. A person’s initial job might not be in their chosen profession.
  3. The refugee himself or herself plays a central role in finding employment in the U.S.
  4. A crucial way of finding better paying jobs is learning how to speak English.
  5. There are general characteristics of U.S. professional and work culture to which refugees must adapt in order to be successful in finding and maintaining employment.
  6. Employees have rights as well as responsibilities in the workplace.

Obviously, there is a LOT more that refugees need to learn about the topic of employment. That’s where job readiness classes and one-on-one employment services play a critical role.

Shifting Attitudes

Employment is included in the list of specific CO topics for a reason. As you look at the sub-topics, you’ll see that a number of them have more to do with refugee attitudes toward working than with factual information about how to succeed in the U.S. workforce.

Some attitudes implied in the six sub-topics listed above are:

I must be willing to work; getting a job is my top priority; and even women (my spouse!) will have to work for us to get by in America.

I must take the first job that is offered to me, even if it’s not what I want to do.

I am responsible for finding and keeping a job – others may help, but the primary responsibility is mine.

I must be willing to make the effort to learn English in order to be employable here.

I have to adapt to U.S. workplace culture.

The Employment component of CO training should complement and reinforce the messages they will be hearing from Employment Service Providers. CO helps refugees begin to make the necessary attitude shifts to find jobs and work.

Adjusting Expectations

Overseas CO may be the first time that many refugees are exposed to the concept of early employment and a “starter job”.

It takes time and repetition for refugees to accept some of the important and difficult employment messages, especially during the initial resettlement period when there is so much to learn for new arrivals. Hearing about them one time in a CO class is unlikely to change opinions, but it can be the beginning of a shift along a refugee’s personal attitude continuum. Front line employment staff experience this daily while helping clients to adjust expectations about their first jobs and long-term career goals.

Using repetition is an effective adult learning best practice. Receiving the same message from multiple sources strengthens the impact. I think of exposing refugees in CO class to helpful attitudes regarding working in America as more of an initial inoculation. The ideas might not ‘take’ the first time, but refugee understanding will build with increased exposure in later employment training and real-life experience.

daryl twoDaryl Morrissey, LIRS’ national Cultural Orientation Coordinator, has over 10 years of overseas refugee CO experience on four continents and with multiple refugee populations, including Karen, Chin, Bhutanese, Sudanese, Somali, Eritrean, Iraqi and Syrian.

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