Every day refugees arrive in the U.S. from all over the world. They each have a unique story to share and their experience is invaluable for teaching us about the resiliency of the human spirit. Refugees have been cast in a negative light over the past several years. They have been called dangerous, a threat to our national security, and a drain on our resources. There are many posts on this blog that explain why this is not true. But while knowledge about refugees is valuable, I have found that it is actually relationship that changes people’s hearts toward the displaced. Here are 4 ways that you can meet a refugee, in order to hear their story and build a relationship that may just change your life.
Volunteering with an organization that helps to resettle new refugees is the best way to make a refugee friend. Visit our How to Serve page to find an organization serving refugees in your area. Most refugees are eager to make new friends and learn about the new culture they find themselves in. They also love to share their story with someone who is genuinely interested in learning about where they came from and what their dreams are for the future.
- Teach English
Most refugees take English classes as their first order of business after arriving in the U.S. Not all students in an English class will be refugees, but it’s most likely that some of them will be. A simple internet search for ‘English classes’ in your area will provide a wealth of resources and leads for you to get started. Many of the organizations listed on our How to Serve page above will offer English classes for the refugees they resettle. Even if you are not trained in teaching English, you can serve as a classroom aide or simply help students practice their skills by conversing with them in English.
- Visit an Ethnic Foods Restaurant or Grocery Store
It isn’t hard to meet refugees if you choose to spend time in the same places they do. Many ethnic foods restaurants and grocery stores are owned and frequented by immigrants and former refugees. Stop in for a meal on a regular basis and you may find yourself making new friends. You could also ask an employee at an ethnic foods grocery store for a new recipe to try.
4. Start a Conversation
It’s not uncommon in America’s towns and cities to see people who look or dress differently or who speak another language. Strike up a conversation with these people; ask them where they’re from. You might just make a new friend! If you regularly use a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft, or you take taxi cabs during your work week, start a conversation with your driver. Many of them are immigrants, and some may have even come to the U.S. as refugees.
If someone doesn’t seem very interested in talking, be respectful of that, but don’t let it discourage you from starting conversations with others in the future. Most people love to tell their story if they sense that someone is truly interested in hearing it and learning from it.
These 4 ways to meet a refugee are only meant to be a place for you to begin. Get creative, be observant, and always be ready to welcome others, no matter where you are. If you are intentional about seeking out relationships with people who have incredible stories to tell, you will learn so much!