New Life Skills curriculum

“Life Skills” help refugees navigate a new culture

For most Americans, paying their utility bill online is pretty routine.

But what if you were a refugee who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have a bank account, and has never used a computer?

Daily life can be overwhelming. 

To help manage these tasks, ReWA developed the Life Skills curriculum , which covers everything from what is culturally appropriate “small talk” with your neighbor, to making a doctor’s appointment, to paying bills online. The purpose of the curriculum is to help newcomers to the U.S. learn the complex systems many people who grew up here take for granted.

“Small talk” is often culturally specific. Learning it takes time and opportunity.

An idea long overdue

This project brought together the collective experience of ReWA English teachers and case managers—many of whom moved to the U.S. from other countries. ReWA’s ESL Coordinator, Yuliya Matyushkina, described how ReWA developed the curriculum.

“We gathered together several case managers—many of whom came to the U.S. as refugees themselves—and English teachers and together we brainstormed a list of topics. Then we divided into teams to write and edit and we ended up with nine lesson modules.”  

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication. The lessons are offered in two levels: Beginner and Low Intermediate, so can be used in a classroom that has students of different levels.

The nine modules are: Communication in U.S. Culture, Digital Literacy, Education, Financial Literacy, Food and Nutrition, Health, Housing, Transportation, and Workplace Communication.

Many of ReWA’s case managers came to the U.S. as immigrants and refugees. Now they use their wealth of knowledge to help others.

In the classroom

One ReWA ESL teacher Inga Link, said, “It’s easy to use—and a lot of classroom conversations grow out of the lessons. Just the other day, I taught from the financial literacy module.” She said students brought in the mail they received from their bank so they could learn the difference between bank statements and bank notices. “Other students asked about identify theft and how they can keep themselves safe.”   

ReWA is offering limited in-person classroom where students learn from the new Life Skills curriculum.

ReWA’s program manager, Gizachew Manahle, said the curriculum was funded by Washington State Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Manahle himself emigrated from Ethiopia many years before and is glad ReWA can offer this resources to their clients, as well as the wider community.

“I wish I had this curriculum when I came here. The systems in the US are very complex, even for the people born here. With this life skills curriculum new arrivals can learn to respond to everyday challenges. With greater cultural and economic integration, they will develop a greater sense of community”.

With the influx of 2,000+ Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

With the influx of 2,000+ Afghan refugees, ReWA is translating the curriculum into Dari and Pashto languages.

Manahle said, “So far, we have shared the curriculum with dozens of other organizations and colleges across the state, and we hope it will be used nation-wide.”

The Life Skills Curriculum is available online for free download.