Worldview Differences

  • One’s worldview defines what is “right” or appropriate in all areas of life. It defines our big issues like overall values and societal systems, but also smaller issues like foods to eat and how to eat them.
  • Many of the refugees resettled in the US come from cultures where the following subjects are viewed differently: the value of time, individual vs. community, a person’s identity, a person’s value, and youth vs. age.
  • While these are only a few examples, it is important to understand that cultural values are extremely different. For example, a refugee may not realize that being late is considered rude, as many other cultures do not put the same value on time that Americans do.
  • Volunteers should be understanding and patient if there are any instances where a refugee seems difficult or rude. It could just be a case of cultural differences.

Understanding different perspectives on time:

Volunteers should be aware that many refugees have a very different perspective on time than many Americans. Americans tend to be task-oriented, planning their day out hour by hour. However, many refugees do not operate like this. Therefore, volunteers should often be prepared to spend longer than an hour in one visit. It is very common for refugees to offer volunteers tea or dinner, which will extend a visit way beyond one hour. 

Resettled refugees might also be puzzled at the American need for invitations and advance notice before a visit. A family might issue a general invitation, not realizing that they must pin down a specific time and place, then sit at home socially isolated and lonely, wondering why Americans are so unsociable. [from the Iraqi backgrounder, page 34]

Understanding refugees' perspectives on America and their own culture:

  • Refugees are often told that America is "the perfect place," which is of course far from true. Volunteers are encouraged to share their own struggles with refugees as to help diminish this false idea. 
  • Many refugees will not like America. This is okay, and volunteers are not to take this personally. 
  • Refugees are promised a safe life, not an easy life where things are handed to them. Therefore, they have to work to earn money in order to be financially sufficient.  
  • Refugees understand that they are coming to the U.S. to learn American customs, systems and the language. However, this does not mean that their own culture is to be ignored. Empower refugees by finding a balance between helping them adjust to U.S. culture and maintain their own.
    • Note: Some American cultural norms must be implemented into refugees' lives. For example, refugees must adopt the culture of valuing showing up to work on time, and working hard at work so that they can maintain their jobs and take care of their families. 
  • Show respect to refugees by learning about their beliefs, customs and values. However, do not stress over knowing the exact perfect custom or behavior - refugees will teach you about their own culture and how to respect them if you simply ask them questions. 
  • Be aware that you have your own set of preconceived ideas about the refugee community, whether you want to have these or not. Be aware of biases, and encourage yourself and the refugee population to break through these. 
  • Volunteers are to respect the opinion of refugees. However, understand that although you are trying to help refugees, they may not understand in the moment that a suggestion you have for them is in fact more beneficial than they realize. Be patient, and consult WRD if you have an issue.

[Parts of this page have been adapted from World Relief Minnesota, now called Arrive Ministries]