Frontline Perspective: Former Refugees Now Working in Refugee Employment Share Their Advice

Many of our colleagues in refugee employment are former refugees. These staff members bring with them valuable first-hand knowledge of the refugee experience, critical language skills, and a unique perspective that benefits us all.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, the personal challenges and cultural adjustment that these staff members have successfully navigated (or are currently navigating) in order to be effective in their roles.

Speaking about his own experience getting started in refugee resettlement and employment services in 2011, former Higher Peer Advisor Subash Acharya says:

 “[As a Job Developer coming from a different cultural background] I found it challenging to build rapport with employers in the beginning…Many did not feel comfortable with me because they had never worked with someone like me in the past.”

Over time Subash developed strategies for overcoming these challenges, and  eventually was promoted to Employment Services Coordinator at Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord, NH. In this role he managed a successful refugee employment program from 2015-2017, before transitioning out of refugee services in order to pursue the next steps in his own professional journey.

We wondered what the experience of other former refugees now working in refugee employment has been like, so during a breakout session at Higher’s 3rd Annual Refugee Employment Workshop, we asked these individuals to answer 3 questions:

  1. What was your biggest challenge when you began working in refugee employment?
  2. What advice do you have for new refugee employment staff coming from a refugee background?
  3. How can management at resettlement agencies support staff coming from a refugee background?

Here is what they had to say:

Biggest Challenges of refugee employment staff from a refugee background (past and present challenges)

  • Adapting to a new culture while trying to help others (many from cultures different from mine) adapt at the same time can be difficult.
  • Clients from my culture often have higher expectations of me and sometimes expect me to show them favoritism.
  • Coworkers, clients and employers sometimes have had difficulty understanding my accent.
  • Coming from a different culture, early on I had some difficulty building relationships with American employers.

Advice for refugee employment staff from a refugee background

  • Be open-minded and not too judgmental towards your coworkers and clients.
  • Stop…think about when you first arrived. Then act. Your perspective as a former refugee will help you.
  • Be flexible, and don’t take things personally.
  • Work hard on your own cultural adaptation so that you can set an example for clients.

Advice for management about hiring and working with staff from a refugee background

  • Provide additional cultural orientation and be patient as these staff members continue to adapt to American culture.
  • Don’t just hire for language ability; hire former refugees who have some experience with American culture as well as the professional skills necessary for the job.
  • Just like clients, former refugees now working in refugee employment services are adjusting to general American culture as well as American workplace culture. Set these team members up for success by clearly communicating professional expectations and office etiquette.
  • Respect the unique perspective of the former refugees on your team; show an interest in their culture and demonstrate a willingness to learn from them.

We hope that sharing the perspective of our colleagues coming from a refugee background will be a reminder of their vital contributions and provide an opportunity for coworkers and supervisors to think through how they can best support and learn from these staff members.

Self Care: Using Different Skills is More Relaxing

beach work two

Best way to relax and decompress?

Start another busy week with your well-being in mind.

We all know self-care is important, we know what to do and sometimes, when we have time, we do it. What’s the point of one more blog post about it?  Actual research points to how to make limited time for breaks and relaxation more effective.

“If you’re using the same mental activities to relax as you do to work, your brain isn’t really getting a rest. To really relax, it’s better to find something that doesn’t resemble the work you do”,

When you have time to relax and decompress after work, make that time count by using different skills and doing different things than you do at work, according to a recent article in lifehacker and a stress management research review in 99u.com.  

For example, spend a lot of time working on the computer (e.g. case notes, monthly reports, employer research)? Spending an evening or lunch break surfing social media with your eyes on another computer screen might not be as relaxing as you hope. 

And again, the point?  Take a 10 minute break from work – and leave your cell phone behind, too!

 

 

link 99u.com

Take Time to Celebrate One Refugee’s Success Today

Don’t lose sight of the individuals amidst the surge!

Sometimes it’s easy to get too busy to appreciate the personal triumphs that make our jobs worthwhile.  The single mom who gained the confidence to ace a job interview. The family that bought a car with their tax return.  The excitement of a first day at work in a job with a new employer partner.

“Nobody is ever just a refugee,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Nigerian novelist and non-fiction writer, delivering the keynote address at a World Humanitarian Day event in New York. “Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as a single a thing. Refugee. Immigrant.”

In a different way, we can also slip into the bad habit of losing sight of any single client achievement among an overwhelming case load.

You can read more about Adichi’s remarks or listen to her entire speech to get a big picture take on the refugee crisis you address one client at a time every day. There may not be time in your schedule for speeches today.  Make time to think about one client’s success and appreciate the role you played in helping them achieve it. 

Please, Take a Quick Lunch Break Today

nyc lunch breakWhile you’re reading this, take a minute to feel good about the difference your hard work makes to refugees. We’re all hustling to get a huge number of arrivals settled in and on solid ground for success.

Leaving your desk at lunch will help you be even more productive and keep burnout away.  A recent article in themuse.com is a fast read on your smart phone while you get 15 minutes of fresh air and sunshine.  You deserve it.

 

 

Friday Feature: Free Download of New Music

NPR SXSW Download

Photo credit: Phiseksit

Another post honoring our social worker colleagues during Social Work Month.

Music.  Listen at your desk to block out distractions and improve concentration. Enjoy it as a form of self-care and stress management. Appreciate that every culture in our world uses it to inspire, comfort and entertain. It’s a powerful connector.

However music resonates for you, check out 100 free downloads of songs heard last week at SXSW via NPR. Accept it as a token of appreciation for the work you do every day from Higher.

 

 

5 Ideas to Stay Productive At Work During the Holidays

bored

Let Higher help you do better than this!

Of course, there’s plenty of work to do, but if you’re feeling distracted, here are five quick ideas to keep yourself productive and entertained whle you’re working over the holidays.

1.  Hang out on social media.  Share your favorite Higher blog post.  Polish your LinkedIn profile.  Follow employers you want to target in the new year.

2. Listen to some music at your desk.  Heavy metal from SyriaClassic country from BurmaRap from Afghanistan. 

3. Organize an office potluck.  No turkey or cranberries!  Check out recipe ideas from Flavors from Home or Good and Cheap

4. Find fresh inspiration from refugee stories. Hear from Abdi (Somalia) or Clemantine (Rwanda)

5.  Watch refugee videos you can use to freshen up your job readiness class Interview adviceCareer Paths.  English and Other Life Skills

Sleep and Self Care. Both Important for Our Work.

Cross-cultural communication. Driving all over the place. Difficult conversations with employers. Frantic calls from clients. Training clients on public transportation. Long meetings. Cold-calling. Working in refugee employment is rewarding AND exhausting!

Most of the time we look to techniques, best-practices and strategies to make us successful in our work, but we often forget about the importance of self-care. If we burn out, our clients won’t get the services they deserve.

Effective self-care requires discipline and means forming new habits. Developing a new rhythm won’t happen overnight. But one thing that can happen overnight is you getting enough sleep! Here’s a video from Fast Company to inspire you to take this first small step towards being healthier and more productive at work.

Start with this “baby step” and then spend some time exploring other self-care strategies. The University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work has developed a “Self-Care Starter Kit” that provides many helpful suggestions and resources.