Some first-year occupational therapy students are working with a unique group of clients: refugees. The students partner with families referred from the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia and help them adapt to the traditions, values, and rhythms of life in America. The students work with the families in their new environment on activities such as personalizing home space, learning how to use SEPTA to get to work or healthcare appointments, connecting to library resources or getting a driver’s license.
Many of the refugees have come to the U.S. from a third nation and “they often bring the emotional scars of trauma and years of living displaced,” shares associate professor Stephen B. Kern, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. “While students practice their OT skills, they also learn about their client’s cultural and political histories and how to communicate with limited shared language.”
“I have learned that people can connect and communicate despite language differences,” says student Emily Grabow, who has been working with a family from Burma. “I have enjoyed learning about the family’s culture and their life in Burma. The experience has made me more aware of the small things that we may take for granted or not even think about here because they are such a part of our daily lives [in the United States].” Annalisa Synnestvedt, paired with another Burmese family, shares, “I have developed an appreciation for the human occupational needs and goals that transcend cultural barriers. Going forward, I think I will be a more culturally competent practitioner, and communicate more effectively with my clients.”