New American Series: Somalis

We continue a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Refugee and Immigration Center (RIC).  Upcoming blog posts will focus on the following topics: Conflict History, Cultural Differences, and New American Success Stories.  Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.

New American Series: Somalis

Cultural Differences 

Information on cultural differences between Somali and American culture was gathered for this blog from a special source, a Somali student in English Class 4 at LSS Refugee and Immigration Center.   This student, who asked not to have his real name shared, has lived in the United States for seven years and became an American citizen in 2013.  “Said,” as he will be referred to in this blog, started in English class 2 and worked hard, attending class everyday, and eventually passed into Class 3 and finally to Class 4.

“American and Somali culture…very different.” Said began our conversation by highlighting one difference between the two cultures in the sense of community felt in an apartment complex.  “Here I rent an apartment…I have many, many neighbors, but nobody visit!  In Somalia it’s different.  People eat together, talk together…visit everyday.”  Said also felt that the American diet was different than the typical Somali diet, which includes meat and milk everyday and injera, a sour-dough, spongy flatbread.  “We eat injera for breakfast everyday.”

Injera, known as Canjeero in Somalia, is a staple of their diet.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Injera, known as Canjeero in Somalia, is a staple of their diet. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

I asked Said about differences in the medical system between Somalia and America.  He expressed concern and frustration with the corruption found in Somali health care.  “In Somalia…no money; no help.  The doctor or hospital workers…they find out you are from a small tribe, a minority tribe like mine…they don’t help you.”  The American system of doctor appointments is also a new concept for Somali refugees.  “In Somalia you go to the hospital…in the line, you wait.  Maybe the hospital close…the hours finished…the people in line, they just go home.  Try tomorrow.”

Said believes Somali parents value education and want their children to do well in school.  He shared instances of corruption within the Somali education system in regards to the treatment of students from richer tribes and students from minority tribes.  Said reiterated that it was important for Somali children to go to school and learn the English language.  He has great hope for Somali children educated in America.  “Maybe these children help Somalia.  They help Somalia become good.”

Our conversation ended with Said saying that Somali refugees receive some “false information” in Africa about life in America.  “People tell them [Somalis]…rich people give you money…you come to America, on the ground people…people help you from plane…give you more money.  You have children…you get more money.  This is false information.  Somalis come and…they see it is different, they think ‘no good, no good…not like they said.’  After a short time, they say ‘I want to go back [to Africa]’ but it is just culture shock, you know…culture shock.”

For more information about Somali culture and history, you can visit this link to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center and download a helpful pdf file compiled by the Center for Applied Linguistics.  For more “hands-on” experience with Somalis and other people of diversity,  become a volunteer in our English classes or a mentor for a recently arrived refugee or family.

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