Six ways to welcome newcomers
A little understanding of cultural differences goes a long way to making refugees feel welcome and helps everyone feel comfortable.
Here are some simple ways to welcome newcomers:
1) Say “As-salamu alaykum”
Many Muslim refugees face a lot of discrimination in the United States, especially women who wear headscarves as they are very visible. Most every Muslim knows the expression “As-salamu alaykum,” pronounced Sa-laam Aa-lay-kum. It means “peace be upon you.” If you are out and see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, you can now be welcoming by saying hello.
2) When interacting with newcomers, focus on the present
Many newcomers have lost family members due to war or forced displacement, and it can be traumatic for them when you bring these things up. One easy way to avoid this is to simply ask questions that are focused on the present. For example, instead of asking how many children do you have, you can ask, “How many children live with you in the US?” This gives the person you are talking to the option to tell you more information if they choose to without triggering past trauma.
3) Be aware of gender differences
Many refugees come from cultures where women and men (who are not family members) do not touch one another in public. One of the simplest things you can do to welcome refugees is to simply say, “Hello, it is so nice to meet you,” without extending your hand. It may feel weird or as if you are not following normal etiquette. But it can go along way towards making a newcomer feel comfortable.
4) Be careful with your pets
Americans love our dogs! But many newcomers are afraid of dogs or come from countries where street dogs might not be friendly. If you invite a newcomer over for meal, consider putting your pets in another room.
5) Don’t be offended if people don’t smile or don’t make eye contact
Some newcomers come from cultures where smiling may be a sign of health problems and making eye contact is disrespectful. If someone avoids looking you in the eye or doesn’t smile much, try not to make any assumptions about their intentions.
6) Learn how to pronounce names that are new to you
Learning to pronounce newcomers names can go along ways to showing you welcome them. But it can be difficult. Learn tips to help you.
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