Social Service, Daily Routine, and Intercultural Adaptation

“Associate

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.

London’s Chinatown, a communal center for generations of immigrants of Chinese heritage in the U.K. (Photo credit: Casey Lum)

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

Bilingual Education and Storytelling in Intercultural Education

“Associate

The important role of bilingual education and storytelling in the social development of young students have been two recurring themes running throughout the first week of my summer study abroad program on United Kingdom: Intercultural Perspectives in Teaching and Learning at NYU London (July 4-18, 2022).

NYC London students visiting classroom
Summer study abroad students from NYU observing a class in session at Mayflower Primary School in London. (Photo credit: Casey Lum)

In her guest lecture to my students on “Rethinking Teaching Languages in European Schools (with a Focus on England): A Healthy Linguistic Diet Approach,” Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (July 5) emphasized the importance of bilingual education among the young in the United Kingdom nowadays. This topic was shared by Nicky Busch (July 6) in her special presentation on “The Intersectional Dynamics of Immigration, Intercultural Education, and Intergroup Relations in the United Kingdom,” in which she similarly acknowledged how acquiring English as a second or additional language can help immigrant students gain a voice of their own in their intercultural adaptation to life in the UK.

Our understanding of the above ideas – and many more others that this brief post simply cannot include – has been greatly enhanced by what my students and I witnessed “on the ground level” during our field visit at the Mayflower Primary School, a public school located in the eastern borough of Tower Hamlets in London. While the 2011 census in the UK reported that about one-third of the borough’s population came from Bangladesh, about 90% of the students at Mayflower Primary today are Bangladeshi. Many come from low-income families with a relatively low level of literacy, with parents who are not fluent in spoken English. These are some of the reasons why the school has adopted an approach that emphasizes developing their students’ competence in reading and storytelling in English. At the same time, the teachers encourage their students’ families to speak in their home language, in part to help promote bilingual fluency among the students.

From one practical (or pragmatic) perspective, the emphasis on reading is meant to help the students become savvy information seekers and users for personal and professional development purposes. On the other hand, it is believed that a high level of oracy – with a high degree of competence in taking in one’s experience of the world around them and then in being able to articulate or tell “stories” about their experience orally – can help the young build a solid foundation for acquiring writing skills.

But the above teaching and learning strategies do not and most likely will not automatically or by default lead to the development of students’ competency in intercultural communication, adaptation, or dialogue. For example, Heba Al-Jayoosi, the Assistant Head (Inclusion) at Mayflower Primary School, suggests that many of the parents have never been to London Bridge, which is not far from home. Hence, the school has embarked on a project to take the students and their families on a field trip to London Bridge. Such co-curricular activities are meant to help them gain more exposure to the larger social and cultural environment and help them better adapt. These field trips (similar to my current study abroad program in London) set the stage for follow-up discussion or storytelling among the participants afterward.

Casey Man Kong Lum, Associate Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue

Intercultural Teaching and Learning in the UK

“Associate

I will be directing and teaching a short-term summer study abroad program for New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, Culture, and Human Development. Entitled “United Kingdom: Intercultural Perspectives in Teaching and Learning,” the program will be based at NYU London (July 4-18, 2022).

I have invited four distinguished colleagues to share their insights with students from NYU’s main campus on Washington Square in New York City. They include Nicky Busch (NYU London) on The Intersectional Dynamics of Immigration, Intercultural Education, and Intergroup Relations in the UK; Myria Georgiou (London School of Economics and Political Science) on Remote Teaching and Learning during the COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities; Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (University College London) on Language Education in the UK; and Maria Tsouroufli (Brunel University London) on Gender Inequality in Education in the UK.

In addition, a number of co-curricular activities such as guided field visits to various schools and community-based NGOs have also been arranged. These venues include London Chinese Community Centre, Mayflower Primary School, Islington Centre for Migrants and Refugees, Parliament Hill School, St. Andrew’s (Barnsbury) CofE Primary School, William Ellis School, etc. Our activities will center around learning about how these academic and community stakeholders in London address issues related to the role of (English and foreign) language education and multicultural program offerings in their constituencies’ intercultural education.

I will report in a number of forthcoming posts some of my intercultural teaching and learning experiences on this trip.

Casey Man Kong Lum, Associate Director
Center for Intercultural Dialogue

 

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