Every year millions of people across the globe set New Year’s resolutions in the anticipation of the arrival of a “new” year. They hope to embark on new opportunities, change old habits, begin new routines, make healthier choices, and seek joy, happiness, and prosperity.
While most people under normal circumstances seek to find the resolution that would be most suitable for their vision for the incoming year, there is a segment of the global community that is often neglected and forgotten: refugees and displaced persons. In 2015 alone, millions of people fled war, murder, violence, rape, hunger, political oppression, and economic hardship in order to find refuge in a foreign land. They sought hope, future, and life. In order to help refugees keep their hopes alive and move forward despite their difficult circumstances, they, too, need goals and a vision for the coming year. They, too, need to set New Year’s resolutions and work toward a positive future.
Here are five tips on making New Year’s resolutions with refugees:
- Discuss the concept of New Year’s resolutions: Describe German culture for refugees and how Germans use New Year’s resolutions to set goals for the coming year. Ask them if they have the same tradition in their country of origin or if they have different traditions in anticipation of the new year. This will not only provide a great opportunity for personal engagement, it will also give both sides an opportunity to learn from one another. Integration becomes less complicated when Germans are educated about other cultures and traditions they are working with. An understanding of “the other”—their religious beliefs, their traditions and cultures—is very important, and is a critical component to integration.
- Discuss possible goals for 2016: Vision, future, hope, and life are four essential concepts refugees need to be constantly reminded of. To motivate them, discuss your own New Year’s resolution and how you plan to follow through. Then ask them to discuss their vision and hopes for 2016. A key to keeping New Year’s resolutions is to set small and short-term goals, and set a target date to evaluate progress. Examples of New Year’s resolutions for refugees are to learn German, attend a language course, make new German friends, become better acquainted with German culture and social laws, etc.
- Write down goals for 2016: Since refugees live in uncertainty and most of them are still in transition to find permanent residency, making New Year’s resolutions is the last thing on their minds. Yet this could also be a critical component to integration and combatting hopelessness, depression, fear, and anxiety, which most refugees deal with. Those working with refugees must be proactive and encourage refugees by making it a fun process. For example, give refugees two pieces of paper and an envelope and ask them to write down their goals for 2016 on both pieces of paper. They will either post one paper in their living quarters or carry it with them, and place the other in the envelope, seal it, and promise not to open it until the beginning of spring. The challenge is to see how much they achieve their goal between now and spring. This will give them a vision and a target date to reevaluate their progress.
- Be a New Year’s resolution pal: Keeping New Year’s resolutions is difficult for everyone. Even those in ordinary circumstances fail to keep their resolutions let alone refugees who deal with difficult and unsettling circumstances. Talk to them and encourage them. Be a pal. Share your own goals and your progress with them and ask them about theirs. Be accountable to one another. Set specific dates and times you will discuss your resolutions and check each other’s progress. In this global networking age, and with most refugees carrying smart phones, communication is made much easier and more accessible.
- Find hidden treasures: Use New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity for refugees to reflect on their talents and gifts, unique abilities, and their personal interests. Once they are more conscientious about their talents and interests, they may begin seeking opportunities to engage in their communities and be less embarrassed to tell others (Germans) about their interests and capabilities. This could also help them find jobs much easier once it is time to seek employment.
Remember, lack of motivation is a major issue for refugees due to their uncertain circumstances. They need to be constantly reminded that there is hope and their circumstances are temporary. Motivate them to move forward despite their situation. Most refugees, especially those who come from educated backgrounds or have held jobs feel that their lives are on hold and their days are being wasted. Remind them that their situation is temporary and encourage them to focus on improving their lives by learning language and immersing themselves in the German culture. Be a pal and mentor them, but at the same time, put them in a powerful position by asking them to be your accountability partner. Be accountable to one another and work together toward your New Year’s resolutions. Remember to set a specific date to revisit your resolutions in the beginning of spring and reevaluate your progress.
Dr. Yvette Hovsepian Bearce mentoring an Iranian refugee in German language course in Lüdenscheid during her three-month volunteer work in Fall 2015
Originally posted in MPC Journal. Post can be found here.
Original article was written for the 2016 New Year, but the ideas for refugee integration are continuously applicable.