The school bus… child safety seats… documents for school enrollment. If you live in America, these are the everyday norms most parents understand and expect. But imagine moving to a new country, unfamiliar with the laws and even the most mundane tasks. It’s the culture shock that many immigrants face every day.
As a volunteer Career Coach and School Liaison with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, I constantly met with frustrated clients. What most of us take for granted can be a dizzying puzzle for a newcomer. Trying to learn new laws and procedures, let alone new social mores and customs, can be stressful. This frustration can lead to decreased confidence and feelings of isolation.
Take, for example, the story of Rahmiya* and Arham. They just had a baby and were about to leave the hospital with their newborn when the nurse stopped them. Why? They didn’t have a car seat for the baby. They had no idea that special seats are required for infants in America.
Or the day 15-year-old Nadia learned about the school bus, something she had never heard of or seen in her native land of Iraq. This staple of childhood in America — the big yellow bus coming to her neighborhood at the same time each day to take her to and from school — was foreign to her. She was both astonished and unsure whether to trust this foreign system.
These are just a sample of the challenges many new immigrants face. Challenges that extend beyond learning a new language. They must also adjust to a new set of rules, customs, and culture in order to become active participants in their new country.
IGNITING THE BEACON FOR IMMIGRANTS
In my work with Catholic Charities, most of my clients were from Iraq or Afghanistan. They’d been granted a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to America in return for helping the U.S. military in their home country. They gave up everything to come to the U.S. and start over. These were well-educated, white-collar professionals: translators, interpreters, doctors and lawyers, and all of them spoke English. But without a professional license or certification in the U.S., they could not pursue the careers they knew and enjoyed.
As part of the program, each client was required to take the first job they were offered. Despite their highly educated backgrounds, that often meant retail or fast food. The reality of a job below their skill level, one that they were not passionate about, combined with low pay and sporadic work hours, left them disheartened and frustrated.
My first immigrant client, Mohammed, was an older man who owned a business back home. Now in the U.S., he knew he had to start somewhere — and quickly. I was assigned to help him navigate his next move. I had been a Career Coach before, but this time things were different.
The American clients I coached previously were already employed and looking to switch careers, discover their passions, or pursue higher education. They didn’t have the extra hurdle of figuring out if the education and skills they developed in their native land qualified them for work they wanted in the U.S.
Mohammed, like many I coached at Catholic Charities, was disheartened that he lost the status he had earned in his homeland. Following our session, he enrolled in a local driver’s education program with the goal of becoming a cab driver. He took a leap of faith and made the life-changing decision to move to America based on that hope. Little did he know he would have to move backwards in order to move forward in his new country.
INSPIRED TO HELP OTHERS
My passion for helping immigrants is personal. My father came to the United States from Yugoslavia in 1956 with his family in search of a better life. Throughout my childhood I heard his stories of hardship and struggle. My grandparents, my father, and his two brothers left Yugoslavia on a small sailboat to escape communism, leaving all of their worldly possessions behind. As the eldest child, my grandparents relied on my father to help with the everyday challenges of assimilating to a new country. He picked up English more quickly than the rest of the family, leaving him responsible for handling big issues at a young age, such as communicating with the landlord over rent issues. Education was extremely important to my grandparents: their children’s education and success was their American Dream. As a result, my father did not have much of the ‘high school experience’: no football games, no dances. His job was to study and do well in school in order to ensure a bright future for himself.
Listening to my father’s stories sparked my interest in the immigrant experience. Immigrants today often struggle with learning a new language to finding employment, affordable housing, and navigating social and health services for themselves and their families. Compounded by a heightened sense of xenophobia and racism that unfortunately exists in our world, immigrants often do not feel welcome and at times, become isolated. These extremely difficult circumstances can diminish their chances of achieving success.
My passion for easing the immigrant experience combined with my professional goal of social entrepreneurship pointed to a career that would focus on positively impacting my community, and hopefully, beyond. I didn’t need to look much further than my own family history to decide what that career would look like: a program aimed at facilitating smoother, easier transition for newcomers.
With a graduate education in adult learning and the experiences from my volunteer work under my belt, my idea for Golden Beacon USA was hatched: a one-stop-shop for immigrants to find what they need in order to thrive in their new homeland. Through short educational videos, career coaching, workshops, and social networking forums, Golden Beacon USA creates a foundation of understanding for newcomers to the United States, allowing them to integrate faster and, as a result, lift the barriers to success.
Golden Beacon USA simplifies integration for anyone new to America or trying to better understand our complicated systems. The sooner immigrants understand America’s social infrastructure and laws, the sooner they’ll begin to thrive in their new land, become active contributors to the community and the economy, and pursue their American Dream.
EVERYONE HAS A STORY… AND HOPE.
Each immigrant to the United States has a unique story. Different circumstances motivate them to take the giant leap to an unfamiliar country: fear of persecution, limited educational or employment opportunities, unrest in their native country. Regardless of what brings them here, immigrants to the United States share a common thread: they want to seek the American Dream, just like my father’s family did when they arrived from Yugoslavia.
My hope with Golden Beacon USA is to offer support to these brave souls as they seek success in their new country. Our simple, straightforward tutorials and services provide immigrants with a strong foundation, free of frustration, resulting in achievement for everyone.
Laura Marenco is the Founder of Golden Beacon USA. Contact her at email@example.com.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.