a different kind of culture shock

so i’ve lived in quite a few countries on several continents and at various levels of development. i consider myself flexible and able to adapt to different ways of life. but having just visited burmese families recently resettled in the czech republic, i realized something: i am used to adapting downward, to doing without certain conveniences or luxuries. but never have i had to adapt upward, figuring out systems or technologies that i’ve never encountered before. and this in a foreign language. the average north american expat has a tendency to complain when unable to find someone who speaks english in a local department store or government office – but what if your native language is burmese? zero chance of finding someone who can help you in your own language.

most expats try to learn the local language when they are living in a given country, but usually have english to fall back on (even if it’s their second or third language). but for the burmese families that have just arrived here via either malaysia or a thai refugee camp, the challenge is twofold: learning enough czech to get by in a small town (where the asylum seekers’ integration centre is located), and learning how to use such wonders as public transportation systems or electrical appliances.

and that’s just the beginning…after six months in the integration center the adult refugees will need to find jobs, while the children and teens will start school – in czech. i know i had enough worries at school with also having a language barrier to deal with! and english speakers are extremely lucky to always be able to fall back on teaching english when they need a job; most burmese refugees in the czech republic start out with manual labour.

during our visit last week to the newly arrived burmese families, we shared with them a short documentary film produced by BCP, to try to give them an idea of what to expect during the resettlement and adjustment process here in the czech republic. the film will soon be available for public viewing, if you’d like to get a better understanding of the whole process from the point of view of the refugees, NGOs, and the government. watch this space! in the mean time, you can check out our other short films at www.youtube.com/user/burmacenterprague.

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