For most of my adult life I have worked with teenagers and young adults. Almost 9 of those years I have been working with refugees. Both overseas and here in Sacramento. A question I get asked a lot is “How can you relate to refugee and immigrant youth?”. The answer to this question is surprising to a lot, not because of the complexity but because of the simplicity. The people asking this question don’t understand how I can relate, communicate, or speak into the lives of youth who come from a different place, speak a different language, and have a different culture. I always answer the same way, speaking to cross cultural youth is the same as any other youth, because all teens are from a different culture.
American teenagers are from a different culture?
As an almost 35-year-old man, I have more in common with a lot of our refugee students then I do with some American teenagers. Things have changed so fast they might as well have been born in a different country. They speak a completely different language, that changes by the minute (don’t use the laughing emoji anymore, use ded), and they have a completely different cultural with different expectations and faux pas.
So, communicating with refugees or immigrants uses a lot of the same tools communicating with any teenager does, and that is the trick. Refugee youth are just youth. They are going through the same thing every teenager went through. The same things I went through. They might have more trauma, but the underlying teenage experience is the same. Once you learn how to communicate with a teenager it doesn’t matter if they are from Natomas or Nairobi, Arden or Afghanistan you can connect.
I will give the secret. The key is to realize your old and out of touch even if your only 21.