As I have mentioned in each of my previous blog posts, one my goals during my internship is to examine the many ways that language, with all of its nuances and all of its layers, impacts the people who work at MSRI and the refugees who access essential services. My hope is that this information will help to shine some light on one of the most prominent invisible barriers that refugees and service providers face, both in facilitating integration into host countries, and during the re-settlement process.
I chose to do an interview with a young man named Hadi, because he is (a) a wonderfully special human being and (b) a student at the MSRI school and an unaccompanied minor (which means he represents two youth-focused programs operating at MSRI).
I thought Hadi was an excellent candidate for this podcast because when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur two years ago, he didn’t speak any English or any of Malaysia’s local languages. After one year at MSRI’s school, he is fluent in English, and can therefore provide some insight into how difficult it is to arrive in a country without knowing the language, how challenging it is to learn a new language, and how much language really matters in the refugee context.
At one point, as we spoke about his experiences getting around the city without any English, Hadi said, “it was so difficult… If you don’t know English, you are like… blind.” I think this really speaks to the hardships that refugees have to endure as a result of being thrust into a country with another language, where they cannot get around, cannot advocate for themselves, and cannot participate fully in society until they are able to acquire the appropriate language skills.
I loved every minute of this interview, and am so thankful that Hadi was able to participate.