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Sudan to South Dakota: Helping Youth Make the Transition

Sudan to South Dakota

Helping Youth Make the Transition

by Lara Ann Frey & Yvonne Lerew
What can you do to assist young adults who are newcomers to the United States? Is it best to serve them alongside older adults in English as a second language classes? When might a specialized program best meet the needs of younger adults? Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, Refugee and Immigration Programs (LSS/SD) struggled with these questions and undertook a mixed approach: immigrant adults of all ages learn English together and an additional Young Adult Orientation class is offered to meet the specific needs of younger adult students.

English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) classes at LSS/SD Refugee and Immigration Programs include adults from many countries and from ages 18 to 80. Students are placed in classes based on their English proficiency level and the times of day that they are available to attend school. The variety of lessons included in the life-skills-based classes meet most students' needs regardless of their countries of origin or their age. However, some young adults need more attention.

Special Needs
A few years ago, LSS/SD realized that a group of young adults from Sudan needed specific information and training beyond what was offered in the general ESOL classes. These young men had been displaced from their families and eventually found shelter at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Called by some the "Lost Boys of Sudan," they had survived from childhood in displaced communities made up of children and youth. Beginning in 1999, some 4,300 were accepted for resettlement in the United States; about 250 came to South Dakota.

The young men (very few young women were resettled with this group) from Sudan arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, eager to begin their lives anew. They knew some English and entered ESOL classes for adults at the high beginning to intermediate levels. In addition, LSS/SD offered them the help of refugee resettlement case workers, general orientation classes, and pre-employment training. Nevertheless, this group of young men continued to struggle to adjust.

"Lost Boys" of Sudan

The story of the "Lost Boys" began in 1987, when thousands of young boys were separated from their families as a casualty of the long-running and deadly civil war in Sudan. In many cases, boys as young as seven years old were away from their villages tending the cattle and were separated from their families during the fighting. In other cases, young men and boys were targeted for kidnapping by various factions to become combatants in the war and therefore escaped to refugee camps to escape that fate.

Over the years, the Sudanese youth fled to refugee camps in Ethiopia, then fled again back to camps in Sudan, and finally to Kakuma, in Kenya. Along the way they were stalked by lions, attacked by militias, crossed crocodile-infested rivers, and suffered from hunger and thirst. Finally, in 1999, the US Department of State designated 4,300 of the "Lost Boys" to be permanently resettled in the United States. The majority of these young men arrived in 1999-2001. Some 200 to 300 now live in South Dakota; some were initially resettled there and some decided to move to join friends and to obtain employment.

Crawley, M. (2000). "'Lost boys' of Sudan find new life in America," Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 7.

Case workers at LSS/SD, as well as community members such as landlords and employment supervisors, reported that these young men behaved inappropriately in social settings. We worried that these young men, who had arrived with such high hopes, were engaging in behaviors that endangered their health and might cause conflicts with law enforcement. Many were impatient and impulsive, behaving more like teenagers than adults. They were faced with adult responsibilities to support themselves, manage money, follow the local laws, and interact with others in the community; however they did not have the skills or experience to do so successfully. Some of them indicated that they wished for parents or other adults to direct and guide them, and in some instances volunteers stepped forward to fill that role. In general, however, they were legally of age and needed to learn to function as adults in American society.

Special Class
In response to the need for a specific, direct instruction to help this group of young adults to make a successful adjustment to life in the United States, LSS/SD created a Young Adult Orientation class. The class content was prepared by an adult ESOL instructor in consultation with refugee resettlement case workers, some of whom were themselves from Sudan; nurses and other health professionals; and a professional public school refugee family liaison. The class was offered for two weeks, for three hours each day: a total of 30 instructional hours. Afterwards, the curriculum was adjusted and compiled into a written instructor's manual to allow others to replicate the program with subsequent groups.

To supplement the instructor-led lessons in the Young Adult Orientation class, guest speakers with specific expertise were invited to present information from their particular perspective. The local police department's community education officer spoke about law enforcement concerns; a counselor who had himself crossed cultures spoke about culture shock and cultural adjustment; nurses or advanced nursing students presented information about safe sexual practices and about good nutrition; and consumer credit counselors spoke about money management. Since some of the potential instructors at LSS/SD were case workers, who are not trained as teachers, we wrote the instructor's manual in a detailed, scripted manner. See a sample of the manual.

While the Young Adult Orientation curriculum was created to meet the specific concerns of young adults from Sudan, LSS/SD has adapted it for use with other populations. We are planning to offer the class for young adults who have recently arrived from Liberia. The class is best suited to the needs of young adults who are new to the United States and without the guidance of elder members of their families or communities.

Lesson Format

This excerpt from a Social Skills lesson demonstrates the level of detail presented in the instructor's manual:

Say, We have talked about culture and cultural adjustment. We want to talk about and demonstrate some important social skills. These skills are important if you want to be successful in your job. These skills will also be important as you spend more and more time with American people.

Say, We are going to role-play. A role-play practices what you are learning. For example, we are going to show you how to start a conversation. First we will tell you how to start a conversation. Then we are going to demonstrate how to do it. And then you are going to practice it.

Say, The first activity we will practice is greeting people. How do you greet people in Africa? Allow time for student response. How do you greet people in America? Allow time for student response. Say, In each country it is important to greet people but each country has a different way to greet people. It can be confusing to remember what to do. Today we are going to practice American greetings.

Curriculum Topics

- Goal setting: short-term and long-term
- Budgeting
- Time management
- Options for education:
GED and postsecondary
- Using the public library
- Cultural adjustment
- Sexual harassment
- Discrimination issues
- Law enforcement issues: driving laws, curfew and underage issues, family law and abuse, sexual conduct
- Social skills
- Basic nutrition
- Sexually transmitted diseases and sexual health
- Employment skills
- Bicycle and car safety and insurance


We did not conduct quantitative research to evaluate the results of the Young Adult Orientation class. However, qualitative evidence demonstrates its positive result. As in any adult education program, attendance and participation are indications that the class is meeting participants' needs. Overall, attendance was high at the Young Adult Orientation classes and 61 percent of the students who started the class completed it successfully. Anecdotal responses from case workers, law enforcement personnel, and other community members confirmed the value of the class.

At the end of each two-week class session, participants filled out class evaluation forms. The comments were instructive and validated the purpose of the class. Comments from student evaluations include:
b" "The orientation is nice and I learnt a lot of things that I was not expecting to learn: How to communicate with the people in the city; going well with girlfriends, boyfriends and be friend to people openly, not keeping away from people."
b" "What I have learned is to pay attention to American's cultures and adapt [to] it. Follow the laws of America and respect them so that I can not fall into problems with the government and to make me be successful in my studies and work."
b" "It can let me understand how I will live with my new community and how I will survive in my new country."
Many of the topics of cultural adjustment are faced by immigrants of all ages, older as well as younger adults.

Many topics, from managing money to being successful on the job, are covered in the life-skills-oriented classes at LSS/SD as well as in many adult ESOL programs across the country. The Young Adult Orientation class provides a special educational opportunity, however. Some topics, such as underage drinking and social interactions between unmarried young adults of the opposite gender, are of specific interest to young adults. Other topics may be of general interest, but young adults may feel constrained by the elder members of a mixed class or older adults may become impatient with the questions and concerns of the younger adults in the group. At LSS/SD, we have found that the specific concerns of young adults can be addressed most effectively with groups comprised of young people, and especially single-gender groups from the same culture.

For further information or to obtain a copy of the Young Adult Orientation Curriculum created by Lutheran
Social Service of SD
, please contact: Yvonne Lerew, Education Program Coordinator, Lutheran Social Services of SD, Refugee and Immigration Programs, 218 W. 13th Street, Suite 110, Sioux Falls, SD 57104.

About the Authors
Yvonne Lerew is Education Programs Coordinator for the Refugee and Immigration Programs of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota. She has an MAT from Colorado College and a BA from Oberlin College.

Lara Ann Frey is an ESOL instructor for the Refugee and Immigration Programs of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota. She has an MDiv from North American Baptist Seminary and a BS from St. Cloud State University.