Experiencing Foreign Culture Through the Eyes of a Refugee

Story by Katie Lynn-Vecqueray, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Volunteer

Katie Lynn-Vecqueray holds up some of the paperwork used as part of the simulation.

Katie Lynn-Vecqueray holds up some of the paperwork used as part of the simulation.

As a volunteer interning with the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links Program, I recently participated in a Refugee Resettlement Simulation where I was given a brief insight into the experiences of recent refugee arrivals as they work to navigate a country foreign in its language, its culture, and its expectations.

For an hour, I was an actor in a simulated reality, but my emotional responses of hopelessness, fear, and frustration were authentic.

American society reveres autonomy, and such autonomy is often expected of refugees as they experience the resettlement process. In the pursuit of freedom and security, many refugees experience a journey in which cultural orientation and integration are equally inspiring and exhausting. The simulation sought to teach its participants that resettlement is a daunting endeavor; every day is a struggle, filled with new challenges, new concerns, and an unsettling feeling of instability.

Each participant was given a folder, and our life stories were summarized on a single page. This made me wonder: How often are refugees and their histories condensed to a conscientiously consolidated word count? With file in hand, we were asked to complete a list of given tasks within our new destination of Aunkmar. This list was simple in its requests, but impossible in its completion. Language courses were indecipherable, and applying for medical benefits and cash assistance were complicated by confounding documentation and the impatience of “native” employees.

At the simulation’s conclusion, I was torn; I felt unnerved by the experience, and I felt relieved by my ability to separate the simulation from my own reality. Above all, I felt humbled by the recognition that for the Bhutanese refugees who enacted the night’s lesson, my simulated experience was their everyday existence.

Following the simulation, the participants reflected on the night through conversation with the refugees, and these individuals’ stories embodied the truth and heart of courage. The need to correct the imbalance of cultural dissimilarities was an imperative that surfaced with many refugee families, and their tireless perseverance served as a gift to teach their audience humility.

I was offered firsthand accounts of how these beautiful, loving, and inspiring people had struggled to overcome discrimination and a feeling of powerlessness at every turn of their cultural assimilation. Predictability and security were unobtainable luxuries, but their tenacity to find the beauty in potential opportunities was unrelenting.

It is my hope that through experiences such as these, our Red Cross Restoring Family Links team can learn and better understand these individuals’ initial encounters with American culture. In seeing the resettlement process through a new lens, RFL can appreciate the importance of connectivity. As a service, we can find ways to gently support and encourage these incredible individuals’ journeys through mindful advocacy and conscious networking. We have the resources to touch lives. And in the process, we learn so much about ourselves.