UK Cultural Orientation and English Language Training (CO-ELT): Giving refugees a head start on life in the UK

Refugees accepted for resettlement usually undergo a period of adjustment and difficulty after arriving in the United Kingdom, as its culture, traditions and practices may differ from their own.

Prior to departure, IOM's cultural orientation and language training programmes provide refugees with accurate information about life in the UK. These help the refugees develop realistic expectations, develop skills necessary for them to adapt successfully to their new country, and address their concerns and questions. The refugees thus gain a sense of control over their new lives so that they arrive in the UK more self-confident and aware of what to expect and what to do.

Cultural orientation also helps the UK by lessening the pressure on the local government and communities to provide the newcomers with social services while they are still adjusting to the change.

Key Objectives

For refugees accepted for resettlement in the United Kingdom under its Gateway Protection Programme, IOM provides UK Cultural Orientation and English Language Training (UK CO-ELT). Its key objectives are:

  • Prepare the refugees with basic survival knowledge for their resettlement in the United Kingdom
  • Empower participants with 'survival' communication skills in English

Project Description

The CO-ELT programme includes three days of Cultural Orientation training and up to two weeks of English Language Training. The timing for the sessions is such that each group receives English language training and cultural orientation as close to their departure date as possible.

"Since 2006, IOM missions overseas have provided Cultural Orientation and English Language Training to all refugees who have been resettled in the UK. This provision has been invaluable in giving a head start in basic skills and expectations on life in the UK and has always been appreciated by those who have received it."
-- Brian Quaife, Project Manager, UK CO-ELT, IOM London

 

Cultural Orientation. The cultural orientation for the UK-bound refugees generally comes after the language training course. Trainers conduct the classes in the refugees' native tongue.

IOM does all the course work according to the request of the UK Home Office. The course content includes an overview of travel to the UK by plane, plus sections on education, employment, health care, British culture and UK laws. Participants also discuss food, weather and the social environment. The training makes use of class presentations, group discussions, video shows, role-plays, and questions and answers.

In class, participants often express very high expectations of life in the UK. These expectations are tempered by the realities they could possibly face especially in today's climate.

English Language Training. English Language Training aims to empower participants with “survival” or practical communication skills in English.  Language-related topics emphasize the participants' ability to communicate with people they are to meet in critical areas of life in the UK, for instance, in finding housing, applying for a job, enrolling children in school, and daily activities like shopping and banking, among others.

Participants of the cultural orientation course take part in the class activities. © IOM 2009

Qualified and well-trained IOM staff conduct the CO-ELT sessions, and many of the training venues are equipped with air-conditioned facilities and training equipment such as televisions, VCRs and DVD players.

IOM constantly assesses and adjusts its curriculum for the CO-ELT sessions to improve its services. It also works closely with its NGO partners in the UK. For the UK CO-ELT in Jordan, a pilot exchange programme allowed UK-based NGOs to see how cultural orientation was taught and to offer more in-depth information to the classes, as the NGOs came from the UK area where the resettlement was taking place. On the other hand, the IOM trainer in Jordan who visited the UK saw firsthand where the refugees were being resettled, thus enriching his knowledge and experience.

Background

In September 2006, the pilot programme for the Cultural Orientation and English Language Training was formally recognized as part of the activities that IOM would undertake prior to the departure of refugees selected for resettlement in the UK. IOM developed a special curriculum for the training sessions based on the needs of the refugees.

Beneficiaries

  • Refugees accepted for resettlement in the UK
    • Burmese in Northern Thailand
    • Palestinians in Syria and Iraq (Emergency UNHCR cases)
    • Displaced Iraqis in Jordan and Syria
    • Displaced Congolese and Ethiopians in East Africa
  • UK NGOs

Concrete Benefits

  • Refugees receive basic knowledge of what to expect in the United Kingdom
  • Refugees increase their confidence in their new culture and language
  • Refugees know they can still maintain, practice  and celebrate much of their own culture in the United Kingdom
  • Receiving agencies in the United Kingdom have  an increased understanding and knowledge of what to expect for each arriving group

Principal Activities

  • Class Presentations
  • Role Play
  • Question and Answer Sessions
  • Video Presentations
  • Internet (where possible)