A group of participants discuss culture with a couple from Syria who volunteered to attend the event as a cultural representative. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News

Put yourself into another’s shoes

Cultural Workshop held prior to first refugee family arriving in Sylvan Lake

Just about six weeks before the first refugee family is expected to arrive, around 55 Sylvan Lake residents took part in a cultural workshop.

The workshop brought together a number of curious members of the community with refugees from Syria and the Middle East living in nearby communities to talk and find out more about each other.

Sadia Khan, public awareness coordinator with Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E) who partnered with the Sylvan Lake Refugee Project for the workshop, said the best way to find out more is to ask questions.

“Don’t be afraid. If you don’t know it is best to ask a question in a respectful way,” Khan said. “No one will take offence to being asked a question.”

The workshop, which was held at the Gospel Chapel on Jan. 21, delved into what culture is and how and where one can find out more about a culture that is different from your own.

The presenters at the workshop used the metaphor of an iceberg when discussing culture. There is a small portion of culture that can be seen, like clothing, food or accents while below the surface there is much more.

According to Khan, the pieces of culture that are found below the surface, the “deep culture”, is where you will find similarities across almost every culture.

“You will be surprised about how much different cultures have in common,” Khan said. “It isn’t all about what you can see, there is so much more to culture than seeing or hearing.”

For instance, Khan says respect is a key piece to culture that can be found across the board. The issue is how it is observed in each culture.

For some, like in Canadian culture, looking people in the eye while speaking is a sign of respect, while in other cultures it is a sign of respect to not look people, especially authority figures, in the eye while speaking.

Doing research about other cultures, like those of the four families coming to Sylvan Lake who are Syrian and Kurdish, can help from assuming about cultures, which Khan says is where problems start.

“When we assume about other people and their cultures we are not helping anyone at all,” she said.

Khan does caution that research online is only a starting point when learning about another culture.

The best method is to ask someone from that culture about what has been discovered online as “you can’t trust everything you see on the internet.”

Khan also warned that it is not fair or possible to expect a family from another culture to immediately become fully a part of Canadian culture, as it takes time to learn about that which is unfamiliar.

“It will take time and it won’t be weeks or months, it may not even be a couple years before they learn the intricacies of this culture. But they want to learn and they will just be patient,” said Khan adding it will help them adjust as you learn about their culture.

According to June Rivers, a member of the Sylvan Lake Refugee Project, the first family is expected to arrive in about six weeks.

This family, has five boys ranging is ages between about five and 22, along with the two parents. The family has respectfully asked to to be pictured in the paper at this time.

With the family’s arrival coming closer, the Sylvan Lake Refugee Project is looking for donations of electronics so the family may utilize translations from Arabic to English for better communication.

“The purpose is for them and us to be able to communicate, which is key,” Rivers said in an email.

The project is also taking names for anyone interested in volunteering in some way. Those interested in providing their name are asked to contact Kathy Inglis at 403-396-5811.


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A participant in the cultural workshop held at the Gospel Chapel, looks over a few of the examples the groups had come up with regarding culture on Jan. 21. Each table was tasked with finding ways culture could be seen, what was subjective culture and if there is a right or wrong way of doing something. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News

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