Overseas CO Delivery
These questions are addressed in the list below, and also in the COR Center Webinar, "Overseas Cultural Orientation: Updates on CO Worldwide," in which Cultural Orientation coordinators from around the world share information about their overseas CO programs for U.S.-bound refugees, the caseload(s) their programs serve, the messages their trainers emphasize during CO delivery, and considerations for domestic service providers.
Programs vary in length, from 2 to 30 hours, depending on different factors, such as logistics, group needs, and the instructional methodology being used. The number of participants in a CO training varies greatly, although most CO programs offer instruction in a class setting. For trainers, most CO programs rely on a mix of local, international, and U.S. staff. Some of the most successful trainers are bilingual and bicultural—that is, people who have a firsthand knowledge of English and the United States as well as the languages and cultures of the refugees.
CO can be delivered in English (with or without an interpreter), the refugees' native language, or the refugees' second language (other than English). Every effort is made to conduct CO in the refugees' native language or in a language that is commonly understood by the majority.
CO is taught through experiential learning activities, lectures, and a combination of lectures and activities. Which methodology a program uses largely depends on how much time has been allotted for training and the learning preferences of a particular group.
CO classes overseas are often designed on the basic premise that adults learn best by doing and that learners are likely to retain more of what is taught if they can experience it through activities, such as role plays, case studies, and brainstorming, that encourage learner participation. However, programs that don't have enough time or staff for experiential learning activities use lectures, which enable trainers to share more information with more people in a short period of time. In still other programs, the CO is provided through a combination of lectures and experiential activities. All programs, whatever the methodology used, set aside time for refugees to ask questions.
Numerous factors impact CO delivery. One dilemma is the lack of time. Even a quick look at the list of CO topics points to the difficulty refugees may face in understanding and retaining such an extensive amount of information in the short period of time available for CO. As a result, many programs have developed more than one version of their curriculum, so that when pressed for time, trainers have the option of selecting those topics that are most relevant to the needs of a particular group.
Another challenge is the diversity of the United States. Refugees in overseas CO will be living in different states and communities in the United States. How does a trainer provide timely and accurate information that is both generic enough not to misinform and specific enough to be useful? Trainers deal with this challenge by trying to avoid providing specific numbers when discussing some topics—for example, social service benefits and the cost of housing and goods. For other topics, such as the minimum wage, specific numbers can help refugees develop realistic expectations.
A third challenge is the diversity of the groups being trained. CO trainers often deliver orientation to groups of participants who speak several different languages (meaning that a number of interpreters are being used), come from widely differing cultural and educational backgrounds, and have had varied levels of exposure to Western society.
Competing information forms a fourth challenge. Refugees receive information about life in the United States from many different sources, of which their CO trainer is only one. Often refugees have resettled friends and relatives who provide them with information that differs greatly from the information they get in CO classes.
Another barrier is that of attendance.There are many different demands on refugees' time in the months and weeks before they leave for the United States. Because of these demands, and because refugees are not required to attend CO classes, programs put a lot of effort into keeping refugees informed about the availability and purpose of CO.
Yet another challenge is the lapse in time between training and departure. Months or even years can elapse between a refugee's CO training and departure for the United States. In the meantime, information is forgotten, other information comes from friends and family, and little may be left of the important messages from CO training. To meet this challenge, some CO programs offer brief refresher courses to departing refugees that highlight the main messages of CO.