The Inside Scoop: Intensive Cultural Orientation Workshops

Our Intensive Community Orientation AmeriCorps member, Francesca Sifferlin, took a few moments to share about her experience working with refugees in our orientation classes this year.

As I drive up to the classroom for the second day of our cultural orientation workshop, I can’t help but worry about attendance. Will students make it to class having only learned how to ride the bus the day before? Will those with longer commutes make their various transfers and connections? Will they be willing to brave the January weather in order to attend class? As I turn the corner, my worries immediately vanish and are replaced with a combination of amazement and excitement as I see all of the students lined up outside the classroom  thirty minutes early, and patiently waiting for me to arrive and class to begin. As we gather around the table and open our notebooks, I can’t help but smile having been reminded, yet again, of our clients’ resilience and eagerness to learn.

I’ve had the privilege of being a part of MCC Refugee Service’s team as a Refugee AmeriCorps member since early July. My year of service has centered on coordinating and enhancing Refugee Services’ Cultural Orientation Workshops. The purpose of our class is to provide clients with the education, skills, and resources to succeed in their new community and attain self-sufficiency.  The curriculum covers the topics including transportation, safety, health, education, immigration, financial literacy, renter’s education, home orientation, and job readiness. Creating and updating curriculum, engaging new and existing community and volunteer partnerships, and increasing accessibility to our cultural orientation workshops have been some of my highlights thus far.

This year, our Cultural Orientation Workshops continue to be enriched by our wonderful volunteer and community partnerships. Community liaisons from Metro Transit and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office and St. Paul Police visit our transportation and safety classes to teach, answer questions, and engage our clients in important dialogue. Various employers participate in our job readiness classes by providing mock interviews and discussing U.S. work culture and ethics. Our newest community partner, WellShare International, has strengthened our health class by having their community health workers present tailored health curriculum and connect our clients to various health resources. It’s been a joy to see our community partners engage with our clients in the classroom and I am so thankful for their part in strengthening our Cultural Orientation programming.

In order to improve the accessibility of our Cultural Orientation Workshops, we have recently launched our in-home curriculum. Our staff and volunteers are now able to provide education to a greater number of our refugees and to tailor the education to the needs and interests of each individual. Each time I visit a refugee’s home to provide in-home cultural orientation, I’ve been impressed by their hospitality and enthusiasm to learn more about their new community.

During the last day of our most recent workshop, a student approached me to share some exciting news. He told me that he had wanted to explore the city, so he rode the bus downtown and then rode the entirety of both the blue and green light rail lines.  Once again, I was left amazed by how our cultural orientation programming served as a catalyst for him to continue learning more about his new community!


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