In addition to state (or public) primary and secondary schools, with students in my study abroad program, which ended on July 18, 2022, I visited two NGOs during our second week of study, the London Chinese Community Centre (CCC) in London’s Chinatown and the Islington Centre for Migrants and Refugees in the Islington district just north of the City of London. Our goal was to have direct exposure to how community-based organizations help newcomers in their intercultural adaptation in the U.K., as well as some of their challenges and successes in this regard.
During the initial stage of adaptation, one of the most immediate needs of new migrants is the acquisition of services in helping them settle into their new daily routines. Such can prove to be a difficult task, especially for those who do not have a sufficient level of social or functional English. As such, community-based NGOs like the two we visited last week can play a vital role. For example, CCC routinely assists their immigrant members with legal aid for securing social services from the local government or otherwise offering a place for them to build a new social network with their compatriots.
On the other hand, the Islington Centre also regularly helps their clients, many of whom are refugees from conflict regions, with various kinds of legal aids referral services to help them address issues such as political asylum status application, as well as various other everyday life matters related to poverty or job seeking, health maintenance (some of their clients do not know how to fill their medical prescriptions), housing or homelessness, learning about their rights like all other citizens, learning their way around the city, and so on.
One of the challenges facing the staff at these organizations has to do with how, and the extent to which, they can maintain a balance between their professional obligation to their clients and their own personal emotional well-being. On the one hand, one needs to be compassionate about the lives of the newcomers – especially since many of the refugees come from conflict or war-torn regions or escape from political persecution – and many of these people are going through an extremely traumatic stage of their lives. One legal aid staff member of the Centre confided that their day rarely concludes at the end of the workday as their clients’ (at times desperate) needs do not end then.
But there also are moments of joy and great satisfaction. Many members at the Chinese Community Centre enjoy taking part in the various Chinese arts and culture events and workshops, as well as English-language classes. This has been a source of encouragement for the center’s staff and volunteers to continue with their work. An executive at the Islington Centre told us that at times they organize field trips for their clients, to visit museums or attend cultural events across London. During these field trip events and various other such social activities, they sense noticeable joy among their clients. As their clients see or learn something new, their cultural experiences allow them to begin to regain some sense of normalcy in their intercultural adaptation to an otherwise unfamiliar social landscape.
Casey Man Kong Lum, Associate Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue