A practical tool to help communities, newcomers
Written by Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI
Telephone + 61 3 9888 6480 Facsimile +61 3 9012 4419
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
The information in this publication is Copyright.
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This publication is dedicated to anyone who has moved to a new location or returned to a previous one. May the new opportunities inspire you to embrace and enjoy the triumphs and the challenges. May the light of your experience and wisdom be shared amongst your new community.
The information in this publication is Copyright. You are able to print the full kit and use it in its entirety or you can use extracted information in your own publications, but you must quote that it was written by Sue Ellson from Newcomers Network. If you do quote from the publication, please tell us via email - firstname.lastname@example.org
In July and August 2004, Newcomers Network conducted a Worldwide Online Survey ‘Moving in the 21st century.’ 541 people around the world completed 20 questions and this tool kit has been designed from the information collected as well as research and experience collected by Sue Ellson from September 1999 to June 2009.
This practical kit is designed for Community Representatives – locals living in an area who can help ease the transition in simple, effective and sustainable ways.
Comments and feedback are welcome at any time. This is a ‘Living Document’ – changes and editions will be made based on feedback and suggestions received from people like you…because locations, trends, technology and circumstances do change.
Definition of a Newcomer
A Newcomer is someone who has moved to a new location. It could be a distance of a few kilometres or many thousands of kilometres. A newcomer may have moved to the new location for the first time, or returned to a location where they have previously lived. This term includes moves made by people from intrastate, interstate and overseas. They may be a current citizen, a migrant, a refugee or an asylum seeker.
These people are called ‘newcomers’ because it is a transitory phase – they will not be a newcomer forever. Our research shows that this transition time is usually up to three years (but this can be significantly reduced if you utilize effective settlement strategies). Becoming a ‘local’ varies depending on the location – from six months to third generation - but most people would begin to feel well connected in all ways after 10 years in the location. The goal is to become an active citizen who enjoys their rights and fulfills their responsibilities in a cohesive community.
It is common for individual communities to be represented by people who have lived there a long time. If a local person has not lived the ‘newcomer’ experience, then it may be hard to believe that the following issues are very real for newcomers.
The following information is suitable for people in Community and Administration Roles. It will provide you with an insight in to the concerns, needs and wants of newcomers so that existing resources can be utilised more effectively. Newcomers will then become effective citizens much sooner.
The most common information requested by newcomers relates to:
Naturally this information is also relevant for existing residents.
What is less well known are some of the other ‘unspoken’ issues:
Now that you have a general understanding of the issues that newcomers face, the following section is a ‘shopping list’ of options you may like to consider implementing in your community. You may find that some of these are particularly helpful, but as you are also aware of the unique nature of your community, you may write some of these off as useless! That is perfectly okay.
All that is asked is that you consider some of these options. They have been very carefully selected based on the survey results and experience. It is easy to say that ‘it is all too hard, we would have to do a full analysis before we go down that path.’ But perhaps there are options here that you can do today, right now – and you will know that you have started.
It can be as significant as changing your perception of newcomers. It can be as small as saying ‘welcome.’ Whatever you do, it will be a significant improvement – because you have taken the time to read and learn and every newcomer will appreciate the fact that you have made an effort.
Section 2 in this Newcomers Kit reveals options that individual newcomers can use themselves. You may already feel that it is up to the newcomer to make the most of their new life in their new location. After all you cannot make them happy, they must do that themselves.
However, think about how much easier it could be for newcomers. They need good strategies, you need good resources. It is not necessary to ensure that all newcomers have a personal, hand delivered, fully funded chaperone service.
But having a person on call and effective systems and processes suitable for all community members will ensure that everyone has similar access to equitable options.
Do not assume that implementing effective strategies will cost a lot of time, money or resources (financial or human). Regular and reliable is what counts. An ‘all care but no responsibility’ approach may sound harsh, but ultimately, each person must make an effort but instead of adopting a ‘do gooder’ approach, work out ways to share responsibility and provide opportunity, not welfare. Establish places where people can come for free and then facilitate the process, don’t take over. Most people need to feel as if they achieved the outcome they were seeking.
Each community has various levels of government that supervise its administration – national, state and local. National policies need to recognize all types of newcomers and reflect the overall direction that the country has chosen via their social, cultural and economic policies. This will be unique to each country and it is important to consider both the citizens within the country as well as those living outside of the country (often referred to as the diaspora).
State governments also reflect the general direction of a particular region and can provide a useful vehicle for coordinating local options as well as reporting to national decision makers. They can be a very useful information exchange point.
However, the survey and experience used here has shown that most newcomers gain most of their support at the local level. It is therefore critical that local programs are both strategic and coordinated so that an entire community can accept responsibility for the people who live there.
Traditionally, many of the people who start or seek sources of support related to being a newcomer are very much ‘in need’ themselves. What has also been found is that once their ‘need’ has passed, they are no longer interested in the issues of newcomers. The experience and knowledge they have gained is then lost from the public domain.
This starting and stopping on a regular basis wastes resources. The momentum for generating new programs and initiatives is often lost right at the point where it can be moved into a sustainable option. It is therefore essential that an appropriate central point is located within each local community so that the knowledge can be maintained beyond the newcomer ‘cycle.’ For the sake of this kit, the person could be called a Local Newcomer Coordinator (LNC) and there needs to be at least two people available for this role (in case one person needs to leave at short notice).
In Australia, this would be most appropriate as a full or part time paid role within a local government council. This would provide secular coordination support to an entire community.
In other countries, it may be appropriate to establish a local not for profit enterprise with a board of management consisting of various community representatives who would then pay the wages of an LNC.
Finally, within individual communities, like global employers, religious groups, ethnic communities, trade groups, networks etc, once again, a central LNC can be appointed (part or full time). Naturally it would be appropriate to link to other LNC’s within that community as well as in the community where the newcomers are located.
The other major considerations are language training and citizenship. Interpreters need to be available for people without local language skills and provision made for local language training. Citizenship can make people feel more at home, particularly if Dual Citizenship is available, but it is not a pre-requisite for successful settlement.
Local Newcomer Coordinators (LNC) need to be:
Unlike many processes, managing the benefits of connecting newcomers to resources can be difficult. There is significant evidence that if newcomers are not supported effectively when they move to a new community, they can develop serious psychological problems, including depression. If existing resources can be effectively utilised, this saves the need for duplicate services just for newcomers. It is better to train existing providers to understand the needs of newcomers than to try and design services that match the various needs of newcomers.
Another significant issue is culture shock. Completely resourceful and talented people can instantly lose their usual ability to source solutions. They then appear very rude and disagreeable, complaining about minor items or the people that they meet. It is critical that they find someone that they relate to soon after arrival. They do not need a ‘best buddy’ – just someone that is ‘on call’ to answer questions as needed.
By considering the needs of newcomers, your community will cross several ‘sections’ of your existing community. The economic issues relating to population, trade and investment can all be facilitated by understanding the needs of people moving from other locations. Community capacity can be improved by increasing diversity amongst existing groups. With an ‘excuse’ to have a celebration, newcomers have the opportunity to showcase their previous culture, food and lifestyle with the existing community.
It is also important for the various initiatives to incorporate all newcomers – even those moving a short distance. Newcomers moving a short distance often find it more difficult to adjust to their new surroundings than someone who has moved a long way – because their expectations are entirely different. The research showed that someone moving to a very structured and involved culture found it easier to settle than to one they would have found very familiar – and this could easily be related to their expectations.
In fact managing expectations is critical. If your community has worked hard to attract a newcomer, business or investment and then the person finds a hostile environment, not only will they leave after a short period of time, they will also ‘report back’ to others that they did not find the community welcoming. As ‘word of mouth’ is so powerful, it is important to provide people with a realistic expectation of their new lifestyle so that they can be ‘pleasantly surprised’ rather than ‘easily disillusioned.’ Creating a good first impression is vital.
Local Newcomer Coordinators, who are often very visible within their local community, can be very valuable networkers, sharing information, ideas and suggestions across various sectors of the community. They will be able to identify duplicate resources, encourage groups to merge or collaborate and promote local initiatives and programs on behalf of the local council/enterprise or community that they represent. A personal interface can often be far more effective than written publications, either online or in print format – but a combination of all of these methods will ensure that your community will make the most of the opportunities that newcomers can bring to it.
Our experience has shown that most newcomers would like to have their current situation ‘acknowledged’ by the people that they meet. Not necessarily special treatment, but a simple ‘welcome’ would be nice – regardless of how long it has been since the move. Questions about ‘where are you from’ if your facial appearance is different or you have a different accent are a regular source of annoyance.
Many newcomers have declared that the moment when they felt ‘better’ after a move was when they found a friend. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of finding this person, as soon as possible.
People who have moved for the ‘first’ time go from being ‘someone’ to being ‘no-one.’ The mirror reflecting who you are, to yourself and others, has disappeared and any unresolved issues (including past grief and loss) can suddenly resurface. Being able to talk to people who are willing to listen and share stories is critical.
Some newcomers arrive with unrealistic expectations. If it has been difficult to gain access to the new location, assumptions can be made about what will be ‘waiting’ upon arrival. Many newcomers who have moved short distances find it harder to settle than people who have moved long distances – again because of the variable expectations.
There appears to be a significant period of difficulty, generally between six and twelve months after arrival. If a friend has not been found before this time, newcomers can find themselves regularly in tears, unable to leave the house or suffering various stress related illnesses.
Whilst research has shown that most newcomers will find work within three months of arrival, many newcomers do not prepare for the job search process prior to arrival and do not seek paid assistance from career experts. It is not always necessary to pay for recruitment help, but you will need to market your skills in an appropriate manner to the local employers. For instance, it is more important to focus on how you can add value to the employer rather than focus on what you did in a previous location. It can take up to two years to return to a similar level position as your previous location if the employment market cannot relate to your experience (and you may need to go ‘backwards’ for a short period of time but it is vital to secure work in the right industry or organization and not digress to cleaning or driving taxicabs)
Newcomers generally only seek information on an ‘as needs’ basis – but it is often helpful to pre-prepare and utilise a variety of information sources. Many newcomers trust other people, and the research shows that the options of sending an email and making a telephone call have increased in popularity for newcomers needing assistance. To find information, most newcomers ask people they have met, use a local community website, search the internet using key words or look in a local printed directory. Printed publications are difficult to keep up to date and can be lost (and are not as ecologically sustainable).
Newcomers regularly assume that they are ‘new’ for around twelve months, but the research suggests most people would say three years. This is more realistic as it takes a long time to develop ‘automatic options’ in a new location – extended family and friends, trusted information sources and service providers, regular activities, rituals and celebrations.
Many newcomers develop a fascination for sorting out ‘problems’ but not learning effective ‘strategies’ that they can apply to various situations. The research indicates that developing new social, professional and personal development networks and expecting it to be challenging are better strategies than starting or continuing a hobby/sport/interest/course or learning more about the local culture and participating in local community activities.
Newcomers need to find information easily – and seasoned movers rate this very highly. Next on the list is having a person that can help you followed by being well prepared. Whilst this information is very effective once you have moved to a new location, don’t forget to enjoy your farewells and collect all of the necessary records and information before you leave.
Newcomers describe a successful move as when they can say that their new location is home, when their partner and/or children and they are happy in their new location and when they have good friends in their new location. Statistically, it is not as important to feel like a valuable member of the local community.
Many newcomers do not want to re-connect with people from the same country of origin when they arrive in a new location. However, these groups – of expatriates, newcomers, fellow countrymen and women, can provide a very useful ‘transition’ service to gently ease newcomers in to their new environment. It would be most practical to use these resources in conjunction with your other options at the local level – there is no point making it harder than it needs to be. It is not a sign of failure. Make new friends of all backgrounds and enjoy the familiarity of people from the same culture.
If you are moving back to a previous location, you may be surprised to find that it could be as difficult, if not more difficult, than when you moved away. This was a very consistent finding across all age groups. Watching eyes glaze over as soon as you start sharing stories or showing photographs can be a rude shock. To realize that you may need to create a new circle of friends, with similar types of experience, may be unexpected. It is important to realize that friendships change over time, even if you have lived in the same location.
Newcomers accustomed to a dynamic external environment can find a ‘slower’ environment challenging. Whilst a fantastic lifestyle is desirable, newcomers that have been accustomed to regular intellectual activity and without an opportunity to continue at the same pace, can find life stifling. In this situation, it may be necessary to make an assessment of the current opportunities, find out if there are existing or alternative options available – and seeking these out rather than trying to recreate a past experience. This may be the opportunity you need to source a new direction in life – or to re-evaluate your life to date. In some cases, you may decide to move again or return to a previous location. Once again, be ready for the challenges this will present.
Our research indicates that newcomers have received most of their help from people that have lived there a long time, people that have moved many times before and people with the same cultural background – not from people that are trained to help newcomers. People with local language difficulties secure most of their information from other people that can speak their first language (and unfortunately, they often receive mis-information).
If you would like to connect and grow in your new community as soon as possible, consider utilizing some of the following options. Remember that these are general strategies that once implemented, will help you overcome a variety of newcomer related concerns. For instance, if you have a friend, you can ask them your questions rather than try and work out where to find the information you need.
A successful move is generally defined as when you can say that your new location is ‘home.’ But making sure that your family unit, including you, are happy and having good friends are significant too. Most newcomers rate their move as either Successful or Very Successful – and perhaps because they were interested in completing a survey about moving, they are motivated to make the most of their new life in their new location.
There is a significant proportion, 20% in fact, that say that their move is either partly successful or not successful. When this is viewed in terms of how many countries people live in (generally between one and four countries during their life), it is important to have good strategies in place. Most people move more than 10 kilometres away from their previous location 6 – 15 times prior to the age of 70 and have lived in their current location less than three years – so they could be moving again soon.
It is very easy to be fearful of another move if the move to the current location has been difficult. For well educated movers, it can get easier as time goes on – and the variety and challenges are often welcomed – in fact these people often become regular movers. Like many life events, having successful strategies can make a huge difference, but so can being well prepared, expecting it to be challenging and accessing good pre departure and on arrival information resources.
Success could be measured by how long it takes to:
Indeed it seems that many newcomers who choose to move take on responsibility for issues that may be beyond their control and that they expect too much from themselves. It takes time to go through the moving cycle and it is important to be patient and ask for help when you need it. Be prepared to ask questions and seek help. There is no need to be alone. The issues you face are real.
For most seasoned expatriates, it is probably impossible to tell you anything you don’t already know! No doubt you have lived through the trials and tribulations of many moves and despite the best cultural briefings, the best language courses and professional advice on arrival, you are still challenged by living in a new location – and in some cases, you thrive on it.
You may have worked out all of the local tricks of the trade – checking in with people leaving the current location and finding out the best networks to join. But after so many moves can you say:
It seems that many expatriates get close to these, but that they don’t get quite close enough. They find that a piece of them is left in many locations and that they can’t pull them all together for a complete ‘whole’ right now. Rather than sort this all out, they move again. They also find it hard, at the end of the ‘travelling road’ to settle or find a location that meets their needs. The weather may be great and the scenery idyllic, but the lifestyle boring. Or the lifestyle may be great but the weather atrocious.
As mentioned previously, it is time, in these situations, to carefully look at your options and go with the ‘best option for now.’ Rather than reflect on it too deeply, make a commitment to ‘stay’ for a minimum period and see how it goes. Sometimes being locked in to a decision takes away some of the constant reviewing that you may find yourself doing.
Fortunately, with the age that we live in, you can generally maintain your international relationships. None of us really knows what the future holds, so you can leave some options open. In your situation, you may need to do a bit more research and find out whether you are likely to find other people who have lived an international life or if the community will welcome you. If you are returning to live closer to relatives, have realistic expectations.
As time progresses, many people source a closer relationship with a country where they spent their childhood years. This is natural too. If you cannot live in those locations, again, you can connect to people who share similar histories through online groups or expatriate communities.
As with any newcomer, a person who has lived in the current location for less than three years, use all of the existing strategies and suggestions, even if they don’t work the first time. Opportunities can be affected by anything from the month of the year to the date of the next political election. Persevere until you find the friends you need to share the journey of your life.
He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions – such a man is a mere article of the world's furniture – a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being – an echo, not a voice.
Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 1821-1881
This quote is fascinating – as once again, it leads to the conclusion that happiness can only come from within. Your location is just the context in which you exist. How can the voice of who you are be heard? Most people will feel comfortable in a situation where they can really be ‘just me.’ How can that be improved?
When we are in stressful situations, it is much harder to operate from a position of unconscious competence. We usually start with being unconsciously incompetent, then become consciously incompetent before moving towards consciously competent. But in this third phase, we are not performing at our best and if we have a tendency towards perfectionism, we can be easily demoralized. Unconscious competence is when we can do things without effort – like putting dishes back into our cupboard without thinking ‘now where do I put the saucepans?’ You just complete the task without making decisions or remembering information.
I sincerely hope that you have gained several ideas and strategies from this publication and have allayed any fears you may have about whether or not your feelings are ‘normal.’ If you are a community representative or a policy maker, I will be delighted to hear that you have been able to use this information to improve your existing policies and practices.
Feedback, suggestions, opinions and questions are always welcomed…I look forward to hearing from you!
Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI, Founder and Director, Newcomers Network http://www.newcomersnetwork.com Telephone + 61 3 9888 6480 Mobile/Cell +61 (0) 402 243 271
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Last update: 8th February 2010
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