Karen and Yu-Shan are graduates of the sixth cohort of the Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI). They turned a challenging moment into a great opportunity for immigrants through their action project, Let’s Talk Philly.
In a moment when the whole country was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that changed in-person gathering, they developed a creative way to connect immigrants online, while developing their confidence in speaking English and overcoming the language barrier among immigrants. They are not just part of an action team but are also friends. A friendship that was forged through communication, honesty and learning how to listen to each other. Karen fondly shared that Yu-Shan’s friendship is the most valuable thing that happened, and they have become close and share so much together. One key thing that helped them as a team was despite the differences of ideas, they did not have a fear of conflict because of differences in culture.
Being part of ILI was more enriching and gave them a new perspective of the real need that participants had for having fun while connecting with each other as friends.
Karen shared: “There is a need for empathy and understanding to see diversity not as a threat but a way to enrich life.” Yu-Shan added that they learned something new that they did not know in the Let’s Talk Philly conversation circles because of the different cultures. They believe that the cultural diversities that are represented in the circles can help communities understand each other and work together.
Being part of ILI was more enriching and gave them a new perspective of the real need that participants had for having fun while connecting with each other as friends. This was clear during their recognition ceremonies after their first eight weeks of conversation circles from May 5 to June 26, 2020 and the second round of six weeks of Let’s Talk Philly conversation circles from July 27 to September 4, 2020. Let’s Talk Philly was able to provide a virtual space for immigrants to connect in a fun way where they could share knowledge as they developed their confidence. In the beginning of their project, Yu- Shan candidly shared that she was not sure of how the conversation circles would work on an online platform. She wondered about the natural eye contact with someone but realized that when participants were asking for a second and third round of the circles, it was like a win-win situation.
It provided an environment for participants to gain more knowledge, connect to friends as they engaged in English conversations.
The conversation circles provided the virtual space that immigrants needed to remain connected in a time when they could not meet in person.
Yu-Shan said “the purpose of this is you offer people something they need, and people appreciate it.”
The conversation circles provided the virtual space that immigrants needed to remain connected in a time when they could not meet in person. It helped them gain confidence in English conversations in a comfortable space where everyone felt accepted and appreciated and was able to connect to others through deep and genuine conversations. One of their goals was to support immigrants in ensuring that they remain connected to avoid social isolation and have fun in conversations that build their confidence while learning together.
Karen added that “it was like being in a friend or family gathering where you share deep conversations, and you feel so secure.”
Providing a virtual space for participants has remained key for the Welcoming Center in helping immigrants remain connected especially in this time of social distancing.
The peer-to-peer model that focuses on learning from each other by Let’s talk Philly, has been growing ever since and through the ILI where participants of the seventh cohort that began in September 2020 are in the process of organizing conversation circles.
Karen and Yu-Shan were also part of the Intercultural Wellness Program, a program by AFAHO and the Welcoming Center, that focused on cultural wellness and used the peer-to-peer model in wellness circles focused on emotional, physical, and intellectual wellness. Karen and Yu-Shan have continued to support immigrants in building facilitation skills for more conversation circles. Yu-Shan shared that she envisions having the conversation circles grow into workshops that focus on specific skills that immigrants are good at and how that can be a way of supporting immigrants tackle different issues. They also want to see Let’s Talk Philly grow as they help in the organizing more conversation circles and still be part of the circles because the greatest part of the conversation circle is being connected with the participants.
“From seeing the participants evolve from being shy and quite to building their confidence was so beautiful,” Karen added and believes that is why the conversation circles should continue.
Providing a virtual space for participants has remained key for the Welcoming Center in helping immigrants remain connected especially in this time of social distancing. Especially now when there has been a pandemic that has changed the way immigrants connect to each other and where there is still a need to connect. There is a need to keep that space open to support and more immigrant connections as they build friendships, build their confidence and have fun in the process of addressing the most common barrier that immigrants face: social isolation.