When Nick and Laura first arrived in Indonesia in May 1990, they remember the challenges they faced for such simple things: where to shop, how to shop, when to go to the doctor, how to get the mail. Missing family so terribly, especially in the days before cellphones. They remember their multiple faux pas as they learned the nuances of both Indonesian language and culture — for instance, the left hand is considered unclean for handling any object or shaking hands. And the words for “let us pray” are really close to “let us sin,” Nick remembers ruefully.
Laura: “(Our neighbors) were so welcoming. We always teased, too, that our neighbors were kind of like parents to us — you know how parents will understand their toddler’s language? So that was us. We were ‘toddler language.’ We would say things and our neighbor would say to the other person in Indonesian, ‘This is what she meant to say.’”
These experiences made them want to help others transplanted into their new, American culture.
Laura: “I’ve heard different statistics (but) about 80 percent of people who come (to the U.S.) as refugees never go into an American home. (We’re) just trying to break down those barriers so they understand this land that they have moved to.”
Glocal Community Partners provides training for people who want to become closer support — a “glocal friend” — for refugee families. In addition, Glocal has started doing cultural orientation with newly arrived refugees.
Laura: “(Things like) this is a garbage disposal, don’t put your hand down it; this is your new community. This is what a trash can looks like, this is where you put your trash and recycling.”
Nick smiles as he tells a story about a refugee from Rohingya (pronounced Row-heen-iya). International media and human rights organizations describe Rohingyas, who live in Myanmar (Burma), as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. In Boise, the man got a welding job and Nick translated for him.
“The boss says, ‘I just want you to tell Hashim that he is one of the best workers I have ever had. He is such a hard worker, he does whatever I tell him to do.’ …
“That very same day, after that conversation, Hashim gets his wallet out, gets his food stamp card out and he says, ‘Nick, because of this job, I no longer have to use this. I’m going to be ripping this up.’ He just had the biggest smile on his face and it was just like, OK, this is so worth it, being involved in this work, seeing this transformation.
“They didn’t want to flee their homes; they don’t want to be here per se. They’re grateful to be here, but they would much rather have preferred not to have had to flee. The majority of people who have come (to the U.S.) as refugees have come with the whole attitude of wanting to integrate into America, to have a job, to be able to take care of their children — and he’s just a real example of that.”