It’s Wednesday morning. About a hundred migrants and refugees have arrived at this church and are chatting to each other in the hallway. They aren’t there to attend a service, but to learn English.
The church’s English as a Second Language (ESL) coordinator, RM, insists the classes do more than just teach grammar and polite conversation. For her, these classes are a way of contributing to a more harmonious community.
“We get the opportunity to show people who are new to this country the systems we have in Australia and the broader Australian community,” she explains.
“Not only do we teach grammar and help answer simple questions, the more advanced students get to learn about current affairs and basic English phrases that assist in day to day living.”
So often we put the onus on migrants and refugees to integrate without looking at the part we can all play to help them feel at home. We forget that the love for a country is borne out of the goodwill and kindness of many people. Of those who are integrating, and the community they are settling into.
It may be easy to sit back and yell at people to embrace the place or leave — to believe that integration has nothing to do with us but the new arrivals settling into the country. But it is difficult for people to love or even understand a new country and call it home, if no one shows them what the place has to offer.
For A, who moved to the area from Japan, the ESL classes have helped her in more ways than learning a new language.
She moved to Australia with her family for a better educational environment for her children. Not only did she want them to master English, she wanted them to experience the diversity of people and ideas in Australia.
She tells me the classes are useful and the people are kind.
“I am so thankful to everyone in the class. When I miss a few lessons, our teacher calls to ask how I am. Friends from the class also contact me to ask how things are.
“I found ‘mates’ very important here. They help me get out of the house and keep me persevering to understand the language and the country, even when I’m tired.”
The process of integration may be fraught with challenges, but isn’t complicated. It is as simple and as obvious as being kind to one another; of letting people know they matter and are valued here.