Monday, April 2, 2012

An Educational Experience with Immigrants

Last month, I had the opportunity to provide a training about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) to staff and community advocates that work with refugees from Iraq, Nepal, and Burma.
When I was asked to do the training, I got excited and concerned at the same time. First, being an immigrant myself, I got very excited with the possibility of working directly with advocates that belonged to immigrant communities. However, after the initial enthusiastic reaction, I started to get nervous and insecure about the presentation.
My main concerns were:
1. Though I am an immigrant, my experience arriving to a country as an international student is probably very different than the experience of a refugee that had no other option than to leaving their war-torn home country to survive.
2. I had no familiarity with the Iraqi, Nepali, and Burmese cultures. All I knew is what the news says about their ethnic diversity, and their historical political struggles.
3. Intimate Partner Violence is always a difficult topic; especially because it is – as any topic related with human sexuality – surrounded by values and morals about dating relationships, family, gender roles, privacy, etc. which are highly influenced by culture. In this particular case, I was questioning myself about the possibility that some of the participants would understand IPV as an acceptable behavior because of their cultural norms.
4. I was asked to provide a three hour training, not to do a comprehensive intervention. In other words, it was out of my scope to use any of the Health Planning Models presented by Perez and Luquis (2008).

These are the steps that I did to take care of my anxiety, and to try to do a presentation as effective as possible:

1. I asked questions. I asked as many questions as possible to the contact person that requested the training: Who really asked for the training? Why? Who will be attending? What were their expectations and goals for the training? Were the participants fluent in English?
2. I did some research to educate myself. Not in the I-need-to-know-everything-about-those-cultures way; but in the What-do-we know-about-IPV-in-immigrant-and-refugee-communities? way. Lucky enough, I found a report from the Family Violence Prevention Fund (2009); and I used the information from the report to enhance the theoretical framework that I usually utilize. You can find the report at:

3. I had to be clear with myself that, while I could be the “expert” in the dynamics of IPV, I definitely was not the expert in how these dynamics could look like or be present in these specific communities and cultures.

The three steps lead me to design a presentation in which I offered a theoretical framework –informed by the report-; and then provided opportunities to participants to come up with their own examples and situations, and different forms in which the information could be helpful for their work.
The feedback from participants was very positive; and some of them stayed a little longer to ask more questions and talk about the topic.
I have to admit I learned from them as much as -or more than- what they could have learned from the training. Among other things, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who did domestic violence advocacy in Nepal; talking to her reinforced my belief that even if IPV is more acceptable in certain cultures, it does not mean that all the members of the culture like to keep it that way.
Overall, and from a selfish perspective, it was just such an inspiring experience to have a room full of people from different countries and cultures talking about how to stop intimate partner violence in their communities.
I hope sharing this experience could be useful for you.


  1. Great post, Azucena. It sounds like an exciting, but nerve-racking opportunity. I think asking questions is one of the best tools we, as educators, have. I did a training recently that involved about 20 people from one organization and 2 from another. We really had to ask a lot of questions and think outside the box to make sure the two people felt as welcome as the 20 and make sure that the needs of both organizations were met.

    I think Adult Learning Theory (or andragogy they blur together at times) talks about how in an adult audience you are more likely to have people with very different viewpoints because they will have more experiences and therefore, formed more opinions than a group of youth. I would imagine that this would be especially true in a group of refugees from three different countries. Though they all share the experience of being refugees, what else, really, is similar about these countries. In my presentation, most of the people were with an organization that deals with recently adjudicated youth. The rest were from traditional school organizations. Even though they all worked with youth, their situations were completely different.

    It sounds like you did a great job trying to know enough about the cultures to be able to deliver a culturally-competent lecture, but not stereotype the participants. Thanks for the tips, I think they were very helpful!

  2. Azucena you really touched on some very important points in your post. I think that with any topic that we get to talk about related to sexuality we will undoubtedly be face with an audience with a whole slew of different beliefs on the topic. Because sexuality is such a personal topic it's important that we remember just because we are experts in the field we are certainly not experts on the values and other things attached to those behaviors or that information.

    I think the way you chose to tackle the training was perfect. By doing some research and going at it from a theoretical standpoint you certainly were not there to pretend you had all the information or all the right answers. The information you did deliver was backed up with statistics and you then asked participants to come up with examples. This took the pressure off of you to come up with something inclusive of the entire group and allowed your audience to think about how this training is useful to them specifically.

    I think what you said about how much you personally took from the training is really important as well. I think that even if we are teaching about a topic we know very well, we as educators always have the opportunity to learn something from our audience. No group is ever going to be exactly alike.

    I second Kelly, it sounds like you did a really excellent job in your training and got a good response. I applaud your ability to dive right into a topic you were nervous to present on and come out shining!

  3. Thank you, Azucena, for your great insight! I like your three tips and feel that they could benefit anyone in preparing their presentation to an unfamiliar group. You make a good point too with your post that to truly do your best as an educator one should step back and survey the landscape ahead. Taking the time to really assess and consider the needs of your audience and doing the research to educate yourself on the topic I feel makes for a more effective educator. It showed that the extra time you took paid off not only in the positive feedback you received from your participants but in the knowledge you attained from the experience. Making that connection with them and having them teach you something as well tells me that they were attentive and engaged in your presentation. I applaud your efforts and appreciate you sharing your process with us in this forum.

  4. Azucena, I have been impressed with your thoughtful and insightful comments in class and this blog follows suit. Some key things you said piqued my interest:
    • You noted a distinction in the experiences of entering the U.S. as an international student compared to a refugee. While this may be true, I have to believe your experience as a newcomer to this country allows you to connect with the participants of your training in a way that a native of this country could not. In this, you could connect and resonate with your participants in a way that I could not.
    • The realization that your understanding of Iraqi, Nepali and Burmese stem from “what the news says” is also interesting. The news does provide us with information and, yet, the news can give a very skewed perspective of situations, peoples, cultures, etc. The way you phrased it, it appears you were aware of the limitations of news in providing accurate and complete information.
    • I also recognize, as Kelly noted, that in any collection of people there would be a range of values and opinions expressed. In my practicum, I had students representing a wide range of cultures: Asian, African-American, French, Thai, Caucasian, Hispanic, and among the Hispanic students a range of cultures: Puerto Rican, Mexican, etc. Further still, among different families sharing the same ethnicity, there can be a wide range of values and opinions. While this can be intimidating, I believe it provides richness to teaching that can be both challenging and exciting.
    • I loved that you let go of the “need-to-know-everything” tendency, asked lots of questions, and listened to your contact person. It seems so simple, but asking questions and listening to the answers is so important in what we do as educators.

    Finally, I loved reading that the experience was successful and rewarding both for the participants and for you. Bravo, Azucena. I am left with one burning question: What is the theoretical framework you usually use?

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience Azucena! IPV is an important issue that many cultures face and the fact that you took the tools we learned in 626 to help better prepare yourself sounds like it helped with the anxiety you faced. I know that last year for 625 my partner for the TMP wanted to use the word "boo" to represent significant other. While I understood that her intention was to educate local teens on teen relationship violence, I was using my cultural background insight knowing full well that "boo" is only used locally to signify a bad game or musical artist! However, this forced us to have that "tough" cultural conversation, which I thought would be rude on my behalf, was really helpful. As you said, asking questions and going there to better understand your audience is important. In this instance you were successful! In fact, you might have given these individuals the opportunity to discuss a topic that they hold dear, where they might have not had the chance otherwise. Hopefully this experience has made you feel like you can defeat any educational and cultural anxiety in the future!

  6. Azucena
    I thought your post was well written and you did a great job with educating yourself and getting yourself prepared for the presentation. I think it would be a great experience for you to teach immigrants instead of allowing someone who was born here to present. You can probably relate more to their experience than someone who did not immigrate here. While you may have a different experience of coming to the US, it may be beneficial for your audience to hear your experience.
    It sounds like you had a positive experience and maybe you make new connections with people you other wise not have never made. Great job!

  7. Fantastic post. I just had a similar experience while I was planning a workshop for the Union. I think you did a fantastic job of mapping out the appropriate steps to taking on an assignment that we may be excited about but need a little help in delivering properly and with intercultural competence. Most importantly, you reminded me the importance of two things that I often forget. One, to ask for help. Sometimes we are so focused on being the "expert" that we don't want to ask questions for fear of losing out expert status. And two, do the leg work. You took the initiative to find the information for what you didn't know. Again I think sometimes we forget the huge amount of resources we have at our fingertips, and all it takes is a little leg work to find everything we need to put together an amazing program. So thank you for sharing.