Sunday, May 24, 2009

Refugee stuff: Talking to refugees

Some people, I have noticed, are not comfortable talking to refugees or simply do not know how to talk to refugees. It's a bit, perhaps, like talking to a war veteran or some other traumatized person. The conversation goes flowing along and suddenly things come to a screeching halt when one participant in the conversation realizes that they might just be stumbling across areas that they are not comfortable or familiar with.

It's probably a bit like some people do not really know how to talk to people in recovery, ex-convicts or war veterans. Some people do not know how to react when they find themselves face to face with someone who has been through a horrible experience.

My advice, and it's just one person's advice, is as follows.

Keep things in the present, focus on the future, focus on the positive.

Ask them how they like things here where they are now and if they have any problems.

Ask them what was the most interesting or most beautiful thing they have seen since coming to the United States.

In other words, show an interest in them, show concern for their current well-being, show a willingness to offer assistance or advice about present issues, at least in a small way.

As time goes on you will have a better idea of who they are and what they wish toi talk about. They will have a better idea of who you are and if you are really someone who they wish to share intimate life experiences with. Most refugees come from non-Western cultures that are distinctly different from ours. And in different cultures, speech is used in different ways. Therefore the notion that one would wish to speak about past traumas to someone one has just recently met is distinctly odd to most people in the world.

Furthermore, due to their experiences, many refugees have learned to be private people. I am amazed sometimes at how little information they share with each other, even their roommates. Therefore, there really is no point in trying to dig out a refugees life story on the first encounter. Besides, what will you do with that information anyway? You don't need it.

Just keep things light and on the present until you get to a point where things need or should go deeper.

Again, this is just my two cents. Take it for what it's worth.

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