What can we do to feel included in a new country? Engaging with the local community might be perceived by many as an everyday activity, but sometimes it can become extremely challenging! Not knowing where to meet people or not being familiar with the local cultural norms can create massive barriers to participating in a new community.
How can we know when and where activities of social and civic engagement – from concerts to children activities and community meetings – are taking place? Are they open to everyone or do we need an invitation? Should we bring something to eat or drink, or will it be perceived as disrespectful? Is physical contact a culturally accepted attitude or is it too invasive? Is this expression a harmless joke or a tremendous offence?
It can often be difficult to seek out social experiences and dig deeper into cultural norms when you are focusing on settling in and learning your way around an unfamiliar place. However, building relationships, forming friendships and understand social norms are extremely effective ways to defeat isolation and loneliness.
For these reasons, FATIMA partner Sursum recently addressed these issues with the students living in Ljubljana, Slovenia. During the class, women migrants were introduced to local cultural norms that would facilitate their engagement with the new community. Moreover, several practical ways to involve themselves and develop new interests and skills were presented to the students.
Erika, who arrived in Slovenia from Colombia three years ago and is now enrolled in FATIMA, stated that:
“(…) all those activities they are doing now teaching us about the culture, about the music, about the food, about the touristic places, the important people of the nation, this is giving us much more knowledge about Slovenia and then for us is much more easier to understand the society, the people, how they think and also that we can socialise better.”
This quote highlights how much Erika values the knowledge of cultural norms and local knowledge. Understanding what families eat on a Sunday or the anthem they would sing at a public event can make a real difference in breaking the barriers to community engagement!