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How to Conduct an Interview Over a Refugee Story

Every cultural background has both hidden and visible elements with values being the key feature of every culture. Visual elements are most noticeable at first glance and include dress, art, artifacts, architecture, color, traditions, and social etiquette.

But, in order to be an effective communicator and overcome barriers in communication, learn about their home country and promote cross-cultural communications in a healthy way that’s respectful and takes into account their journey so far.

What Are Cross Cultural Differences?

There are 8 Core Cultural Differences:

    • Individualism vs. Collectivism. In individualized cultures, the nuclear family is more common than a focus on extended family. Marrying for love is a factor and divorce rates are higher. Ties are looser and one of the biggest culture shocks for outsiders is engaging in solo activities more often. Collectivist cultures focus on the group as a whole and have strong relational ties with unquestioning loyalty where group activities are common. Divorce rates are lower because love matches are less common and shared living is expected.
    • Power Distance. In the higher power dynamic, hierarchy is expected and lesser members expect inequality because only a few have access to resources, higher education, skills, and knowledge. Whereas in a lower power dynamic, dominance is seen as corrupt and basic human welfare is prioritized. There is a larger middle class and various social groups are included in governance of the society.
    • Uncertainty Avoidance. Cultures that are able to accept uncertainty and unknown situations are able to see different perspectives while being relaxed and emotionally stable. Breaking rules is often encouraged and relationships aren’t formal. In cultures that avoid uncertainty, change stresses members out and they try to maintain control to prevent change. Social norms are strictly followed and rule breaking is met with intolerance.
    • Orientation to Time. A culture with an eye on the future encourages goal setting, planning, investing, and ambition enables members to feel socially adjusted and in control of their lives. Cultures that focus on short-term objectives are rooted in the present while ignoring the past and future. Indulgence is widely accepted and pleasure-seeking is common.
    • Gender Egalitarianism. Some cultures have “traditional” male/female gender norms when determining child rearing, breadwinning, emotional preparedness, nurturing, modesty, toughness, and quality of life. In these cultures, females are considered lower than males and have lower levels of financial independence or higher education opportunities. Societies that foster higher gender egalitarianism allow for freedom of expression and many different gender norms that are comfortable with sharing household responsibilities, cooperation, tenderness, and everyone is afforded equal opportunity to higher education and financial literacy.
    • Assertiveness. Cultures that value “winning” focus on high performance, ambition, aggressive behavior, and prioritize advancement opportunities over personal relationships. Assertiveness is not a positive trait in societies where competition is considered punishment. A society that values low assertiveness care more about who you are as a person rather than what type of work you do.
    • Being vs Doing. A culture full of “doers” believes strongly in working as hard as possible to create whatever destiny they’ve chosen for themselves. Training and professional development promote an environment of excellence and innovation. “Being” cultures promote well-being, peace, collaboration, and unity under a belief that pursuing money is inappropriate.
    • Indulgence vs Restraint. Indulgent societies encourage pursuing fun and enjoyment while restraint means that strict rules and regulations are stuck to while seeking pleasure is frowned upon.


Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Refugee Interview

When interviewing refugees, understand the cultural barriers and differences in editorial content. Explain who you are and why you are asking questions. Some cultures view journalism or social media negatively because they have been used against them previously.

Make sure your editorial team understands the purpose of the interview and the needs or wants of the refugee being interviewed. Allow the interviewee to say “no” and be ok with them doing so.

Outline how you’re going to identify them in your publishing content. Take into account that they may be asylum seekers or in danger so using their name or photo could be harmful to them.

Understand that cultural differences in communication can cause stress especially if recent or past traumas are brought up in verbal communication. Use body language to determine if the other person is uncomfortable and allow for eye contact to be inconsistent during the interview if that’s what they need from you.

Allow them to feel whatever feelings they are feeling at the time of the interview and don’t focus on fact checking during the interview. Depending on how their experiences have been or where they’re at in their journey will impact how they react to the interview.

Take the time to get to know about their culture before having a conversation because this will help deepen the connection and build trust. Explain editorial guidelines of your project before you start your interview or conversation to get a high quality product or service from the experience.

Examples of Culture Shock

Leaving your home and everything you’ve known can be an emotional rollercoaster. At first, there may be feelings of happiness and joy for being out of the hard living situation or poor living conditions. USAHello discussed the phases of culture shock.  As reality starts to set in and refugees realize they aren’t going home, they may start to feel:

    • Out of control of their lives
    • Wanting to clean or thinking everything is dirty
    • Fear of their surroundings or the unknown
    • Anger at the situation
    • Boredom or frustration
    • Sleeping too much or depressed mood

These are common feelings when experiencing intense periods of stress and uprooting their entire lives to move to a strange land.

In Conclusion

Compassion often goes a long way in communication, especially when starting conversations with refugees from other cultures or diverse backgrounds. Interviews allow us to learn about each other’s stories and help educate our communities on how best to serve in meaningful ways. Understanding different cultures is key to finding common ground and building trust.

Disclaimer: All content published by Hanna Interpreting Services, LLC is owned by Hanna Interpreting Services, LLC and is for educational purposes only. Published information is opinion, not fact, and should not be used in lieu of legal or professional services advice. Please consult a professional for help in regards to your individual situation or circumstances.