Cultural Orientation Professional Development Workshop

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I attended a two-day workshop on February 24 and 25, 2009, on cultural and community orientation for refugees resettling in the U.S. The workshop was facilitated by the Cultural Orientation Resource Center of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC, and was held at HIAS and Council offices here in Philadelphia. This was a regional workshop, and people attended from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and Lancaster, in addition to our local groups.Our facilitators were Sanja Todoric-Bebic, Director of the COR Center, and Colleen Mahar-Piersma, Refugee Training Specialist.

The focus the first day was on understanding cultural/community orientation (CO) and putting that understanding into practice. It covered both overseas cultural orientation (the different models that are used, and how they are adapted for different ethnic groups) and domestic community orientation (the different models, and how they are often adapted for different ethnic groups and localities). We had some lively discussion about the current CO practices of the workshop participants, their experiences and their frustrations. Two or three of our attendees had significant experience abroad as well and contributed much to the conversation. Since COR is concerned with all aspects of cultural orientation, the workshops they hold across the country for domestic agencies are sources of feedback for the overseas entities. Coleen moderates a listserv on cultural orientation topics, populated by CO professionals at home and abroad, which is another vehicle for sharing critical information among agencies.

The second day covered consideration of adult and cross-cultural learning when designing and delivering community orientation in the U.S. We looked at different methodologies and delivery methods. For practical experience in lesson design, we broke into five groups, each of which selected different topics and then prepared a detailed lesson plan. At the end of the session, each group presented their lesson plan for review by all the attendees. It was a very effective approach, a good balance of theoretical and hands-on instruction. What I appreciated most, however, was that the lesson plans we developed will be added to COR's resource bank and available to anyone with Internet access.

At least as much as for the content, the workshop was valuable to me for the people I met, and I have tentative plans to work more closely with several of the attendees, with respect to Philadelphia's refugees from Burma.