There are different names for it: Cultural Companion, Sponsor, Friend.
What is it? An English-Speaking American who makes a point of spending a few hours every week with a (maybe non-English speaking) refugee or immigrant, helping them adjust to life in America.
Here’s why you need a New American in your life.
1) if you are afraid that the immigrants in your community are secretly terrorists, the most radical act of counterterrorism you can commit is bring them some welcome- to -the -neighborhood cookies. From what I hear, jihadists are less likely to blow up their American neighbors if they’re getting the homebaked goods hookup from them.
2) if you’re worried that your immigrant neighbors might become radicalized in the United States, be their friend. If their social schedule is booked for halal burgers at your house, they’ll have less time to party it up with terrorist cell recruiters.
3) if you have no fear of terrorism, and think we should all just hug each other and live in peace and harmony, here’s where you can put your hugs where your heart is. Nothing builds peace and harmony than grilling kebabs and knocking back a couple cold not-beers* together on a summer evening.
4) if you are deeply concerned with women’s rights, here’s an opportunity to put your activism where your woman power is. Teaching a sister to read, write, and speak English is one of the most lady- empowering things you can do. And seeing your Afghan girlfriends’ reactions you invite them to learn to drive with you? Worth more than words can say.
5. If you’ve ever been lonely, here’s a chance to help someone else who is lonely. Especially if you’re a woman. Stay at home refugee women are some of the most isolated people in America. Husband goes to work, learns English, and assimilates. Children go to school, learn English, and assimilate. And you are left behind on a way that is so, so isolating. Give your fellow human a chance, be the friend she needs to grow with the rest of their family. Being new somewhere is hard .**
6) if you’re a human who needs food, you need a cultural companion. Because when it comes to culinary exchange that will invariably happen, you will be far and beyond the real beneficiary. Mantu is a life-changing experience.***
7) if you want to buff up your friend skills, be a cultural companion. When you make a point of spending time with someone so different from you, someone who may not even speak your language, and the two of you manage to forge a relationship anyway, it’s an incredibly special thing. It makes regular friendship, where you fall in together through like mindedness and similarity, feel downright lazy. Hanging out with different people, people unlikely to agree with you on many fronts, ups your friend game.
8) if you want your kids to be open minded, cosmopolitan little people, model it. Radically.
9) if you have always wanted to experience the world, but can’t travel for whatever reason, here’s your chance! The world has come here. And in some ways, one may experience a place better in the American home of its exiled son or daughter than one would taking guided, sanitized tours around the main attractions of its tourist centers.
10)For Americans (and most other countries too): If you love your nation, befriending a new immigrant is a profound act of patriotism. Here is your chance to be a representative of your country in a very meaningful way. Here is a chance to uphold the centuries old tradition of making room for people seeking peace and liberty and a better life for themselves. Here is a way to show the greatness of your nation.
11) if you are human and therefore need to love, and wish to deepen your understanding of what that means, go find yourself a person who can do little for you, who may need much from you, a person who is not as comfortable and easy to be around as someone similar and familiar to you. And stretch. And grow. And become.
It’s not just a nice idea for warm fuzzies. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
*As a Mormon, I teetotal in solidarity with my Muslim friends.
**Having attended nineteen schools in 19 years, I have a little experience here.
***My Afghan companion taught me to cook with spices by the tablespoons instead of teaspoons. I have no regrets.