Reflections from the other side:

Have you ever stopped to wonder what refugees thought America would be like? Many refugees and immigrants have heard the stereotypical stories about streets paved in gold and gleaming skyscrapers, but that only scratches the surface of what refugees imagined their new home might be like. In our recent Intensive Cultural Orientation classes, we took a few moments to ask refugees what they thought America would be like, and how those perceptions have changed now that they are here. We share a few of those insightful reflections here, noting where each individual came from and how long ago they arrived in the US.

Culture and daily life:

“We thought life might be easy in the U.S., but it’s been challenging. I’ve learned that life can be difficult wherever you go. I’ve learned that Americans also have difficulties, that they also have troubles. Yet, I’ve also learned that with support and community, you can succeed.” (Kenya, 5 months)

“I knew the U.S. had people from all over the world, and I have met, work with, and made friends with people much such diverse backgrounds. We all respect each other’s way of life, and I appreciate that.” (Kenya, 5 months)

“Where I come from, people are stern and only smile sometimes. Here, people smile all the time here and are very friendly. I like it.” (Belarus, 6 months)

“I thought everyone had a house with a yard, but people live in all sorts of buildings.” (Nepal, 4 months)

“I was very happy to see people speaking my language. I didn’t realize people speak many languages here or that I could find an interpreter.” (Ukraine, 1 year)

“Before we were here, we knew all of our neighbors and we took care of each other.  I now do not know my neighbors. We would invite neighbors over around Christmas time and eat a meal together. I do not think my neighbors will invite me over for a meal.” (Nepal, 4 months)

“I cannot believe how quickly our children have learned English in school. We still talk to them in our language, but they respond in English. They learn and adapt so fast.” (Thailand, 1 year)


“I want to try cake. I learned about cake in a class about the U.S. that I took abroad.  I told my family we should buy one cake at Christmas time.” (Nepal, 4 months)

“I was so happy to see a grocery store here that sold food form my country. We have also started a community garden to grow some of our traditional food.” (Thailand, 1 year)

And of course, we have to share a few reflections on Minnesota’s winter weather:

“I did not know that snow would also fall on the street. I really thought the streets would stay clear.” (Kenya, 5 months)

“The snow is so cold and it makes my hands hurt so badly. I swear I almost cried.” (Turkey, 4 months)

“I feel like a kid again, I keep falling over on the ice. I fell twice taking out my garbage this morning, I got up and then fell over again!” (Kuwait, 1.5 years)

“We were told Minnesota is so cold, we thought it would be like the arctic, that there might be polar bears; we heard so many rumors about the cold. We are happy it isn’t that cold.” (Jordan, 7 months)

In closing, here’s a powerful reflection shared by one former refugee:

“You have to be determined and driven to succeed in a new place and in America. We learned from others that it can be challenging and you have to be self-driven to do well here. But as a refugee, I know we are determined and driven, we work hard. We left everything and came here to have a better life, so I know we will succeed.” (Thailand, 1 year)

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