Beyond language, each culture contains other types of non-verbal communication: kinesics (gestures and body movements) and paralanguage (noises and tones) through which “up to 90 percent of emotional information is communicated,” writes Kenneth Guest. Pay special attention in order to read people well.
Further, take time to learn about the culture and society she comes from. What values does she hold? What traditions are important to her? Every culture observes rites of passage, like birth of a child, death, and marriage. Some cultures have additional celebrations, such as the quinceañera in Latin America. Ask the immigrant about her unique holidays and how she celebrates birthdays or anniversaries. Invite her and her family to your home to experience your food and festivities on your special days, or involve them in a US holiday celebration. Your genuine interest in her customs will not only show you care, it should also help you avoid making ignorant or hurtful comments.
Practical Survival Needs
“Acculturation—the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge and skills that enable them to more or less function in a second culture.” —Stephen Grunlan
What we and immigrants have in common is the need not only to survive, but to function in society. Cultural institutions such as education, health, transportation, and banking can cause intense anxiety and stress for non-natives readjusting to life in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar protocols. Here is where the body of Christ can and should serve in a hands-on way; here is how we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:3). Consider the following list of practical tips for serving immigrants:
- Help enroll children in the local school and accompany them in buying school supplies.
- Introduce them to a local doctor or dentist. Show them where the closest hospital is and provide phone numbers in case of an emergency. If applicable, explain how insurance works. (Note: many cities have volunteer clinics for undocumented immigrants. Investigate this in your area.)
- Accompany women when help is needed for personal issues.
- Teach them how to navigate public transportation, or provide rides.
- Go with them to open a bank account.
- Show them where to buy groceries and where to find ingredients for their native meals (if possible).
- Locate the local immigration office and the closest embassy; show them where to obtain necessary documents.
- Teach them how to properly address envelopes and use the postal system.