Stories of Change

Blanche (top photo, right) conducts a public transit orientation system with Carmen and Julio.

Getting Around Greensboro

I remember the first time I used public transportation in Boston. It was a stressful experience. I stared at the touch screen ticket kiosk, not sure where to start as people lined up behind me. Once I got to know how to navigate the system, such as purchasing the ticket and getting off where I wanted, it felt truly liberating and rewarding.

Every person seeking refuge in our country faces the same challenges when it comes to navigating their way around using public transportation. Fortunately, Church World Service understands these challenges and has ways to make it easier for our refugee and asylum seeking clients. Our cultural orientation specialists are ready to help ease the tensions of the first time users of public transportation like newly arrived refugees. Blanche, a CWS cultural orientation specialist in Greensboro, recently went out to meet some clients who had recently arrived from Venezuela. Together, they made things much less difficult.

Carmen and Julio are a couple who, with their son, now call Greensboro home. Greensboro is also nicknamed the “Gate City” and has a better transportation system compared to many other cities in the country. Use of public transportation is key for all new arrivals, but not everyone can know of the modern transit system. Refugees often come from places where their transit system is different from the system here. When I lived in Kenya, the buses would run any time and would stop anywhere. There was only one way to pay, which was cash. In countries like the United States, everyone must follow the transit system and that includes getting onto the bus and off at the bus stops.

As Carmen and Julio leave daily for different appointments such as grocery shopping, community gathering, worshiping and school, they must use the public transportation system to find their way around and learn about their new city. Part of Blanche’s role as a cultural orientation specialist is to lead an orientation about public transportation for new arrivals. She meets them at the bus stop in downtown Greensboro and goes through information on how to get their discount card, what steps they would take to purchase their tickets, how to check the arrival and departure times of the buses and the different routes to get to their English classes, groceries and how to get back home. 

Carmen and Julio are now residents of Greensboro and future citizens of this country. Like many other new Americans, they will depend on public transit systems to connect to the city services and access important resources for several months, or maybe years. CWS orientation specialists are key to facilitating these new challenges, it will make integration easier and accessing resources faster. For the weeks and months to come, Carmen and Julio will be one of those riders in Greensboro contributing to the economy of this city. 

This story was written by Abdi Iftin, CWS Communications Specialist, Welcoming Communities. Originally from Somalia, Abdi lived as a refugee in Kenya for about five years before coming to the United States in 2014.