Imagine trying to rent an apartment in Bangkok. Or Nairobi. Or Morocco. Even if you were able to communicate in English you would probably be unaware of the social norms in leasing situations. Things assumed in other cultures would seem strange, even rude, to us. Such is the case for multitudes of foreign students, refugees and immigrants in the United States. And, the multi-housing industry is poised to be a fundamental source for bridging cultural tensions and easing some of the pain of transition into American culture.
Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ is home to hundreds of international students each year. Local management company, Bella Investment Group, is not just adapting to this reality, they are forging partnerships to help these students learn and thrive . Dortha Neuman is at the center of this partnership. Dortha is an adjunct professor in the Program in Intensive English (PIE) and the Area Director for the CARES Program. Bella Investment Group has partnered with NAU and CARES to integrate her student’s learning into their everyday life.
Says Neuman, “I see the struggles they have living in a new place. The culture is different. As I hear of struggles the students have from managers, I include those in my lesson plans with practical ways to use their English at the apartments.” Struggles include students’ understanding of apartment lease legalities and knowing how to ask for help with a clogged sink. Because Dortha is connected to the apartment managers where they live, she personalizes her student's learning. Homework might involve students asking their managers a question, giving them an opportunity to practice English and receive assistance.
On the other side, Dortha encourages her CARES Teams to seek out the international students and form relationships. She educates them on cultural differences that might unintentionally offend or confuse some students. CARES teams host numerous events each month, creating opportunities for residents to connect and feel at home. Since the team is at every event, international students can be assured of finding a familiar, friendly face and they are more likely to keep showing up, allowing them to get to know other residents. Through these friendships Americans are able to hear the struggles and aspirations of people not so different from themselves, hopefully increasing understanding and compassion.
Dortha understands from experience, that “when you live far away from home it’s nice to have someone who listens and cares about you.” And that’s something we all have in common. Thanks to this unique partnership, more and more people are experiencing that kind of community in Flagstaff.
How have you had to adapt to meet the needs of residents from different cultures? What's working well?
photo courtesy of wikimedia