From Dr. Jane's Notebook


Lessons from Resettlement


As the result of many bad things happening around the world, individuals and families in this country are being given extraordinary opportunities to help individuals and families who are in the process of immigrating to the United States. Church and synagogue groups are actively volunteering to assist these families in meeting needs which range from food, clothing, shelter and medical care, to helping them understand the ways and means of life in the United States. As one who has been involved with the resettling of immigrants from the former Soviet Union for several years, I’d like to share a few of the lessons which I have learned thus far.

The decision to immigrate to the United States may or may not be permanent; it may or may not have been by their own choice. The fact of their immigration is a testimony to their strength as a family, but it may also be a source of emotional pain. If they have escaped from a bad situation, they are probably filled with concern for those they have left behind. No matter how well they did for themselves educationally and economically in their homeland, they have no doubt lost most of their life possessions, and they will have to start over. As such, they will be both grateful for your assistance and somewhat ashamed to need it. Perhaps, this is why it is said that the highest form of charity is anonymous.

Learning to speak a new language is a very public process. In order to learn the language, one must be willing to use it, and ignore the probability of making grammatical errors or mispronouncing various words. Members of the host culture can help their "new relatives" by practicing English through everyday dialogue, and inviting them to teach you how to speak their native language. When both individuals appreciate their language handicaps and try to overcome them, we stop equating intelligence with their ability to speak English.

Most immigrants must give up their professions or preferred type of work, at least initially, and take almost any job in the effort to establish a minimal level of economic self-sufficiency. Often, the work and the wages are demeaning, however, immigrants tend to be most afraid of becoming locked into a field by accepting a menial job. Recent immigrants must be reassured that in America, they are free to change jobs as better opportunities become available.

The decision to become a volunteer host family or tutor affords us a great opportunity for personal growth and growth as a family. It is easy to take for granted the freedoms which we enjoy in the United States: for example, the freedom to vote, freedom to make choices, freedom to change careers, freedom of religion. For parents who worry that their children will also take freedom for granted, this is the ideal family project. When we reach out our hands to assist and welcome newcomers to our community and to life in the United States, we develop greater global awareness and multi-cultural dimension to our lives which is enriching. When we reach out to others as a family, our children learn to respect others, to share resources, to tolerate, and even appreciate differences between people. In short, helping out with resettlement efforts teaches us how to relate more effectively with other members of this planet that we share.

ęCopyright, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.

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