Austin An individual from iraq

After an exhausting journey consisting of an almost-20-hour flight, not including layovers, I arrive in Austin, the Capital of Texas. Overwhelmed by competing feelings of nervousness and hopeful excitement, I disembark from the plane and make my way through the relatively small Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. As I descend the escalator that carries passengers towards Baggage Claim, I see people waving at me and holding signs (they must recognize my International Organization - or IOM - bag?), so I head in their direction. They all introduce themselves and appear to be a family, a mother, father, two teenage girls and a pre-teen boy. They say they are my Welcome Team - volunteers from Refugee Services of Texas (RST) - and they are here to help me. We walk towards the turnstile to get my baggage.

Once my bags arrive, the dad pulls a minivan up to the airport Arrivals curb, and they take me to an apartment 20 minutes away; it is furnished with toiletries, household items and weeks’ worth of groceries. They also hand me a hot meal of maqluba in the Iraqi style that they have picked up from a local restaurant. The volunteers give me a brief housing orientation to demonstrate how to lock my front door, where items are located and a tour of the entire apartment before heading out to let me rest. These people were so nice to me, and they stayed late at night to make sure I was all settled in and feeling confident about my apartment - I feel safe now, but still, a bit like a stranger, and I wonder what my new life here is going to look like.

My RST Resettlement Case Manager arrives on my porch and knocks at the door the next day; I let her in, and she walks in with a smile as she continues aiding me in adjusting to my new apartment. We talk about home safety and how to use everything. There are a lot of things to go over, like how the stove works, where the smoke detector is, and and how to turn on the a/c and heat if I need. I appreciate her helpfulness; part of me wants to feel at home, but at the same time, it is all so unfamiliar. I miss the American brothers for whom I translated, but most of all, I miss my home and my people.

Next, we head to the local Social Security Office to apply for a social security card. After some time there, we go to the RST service site, where we will do my intake - once there, I notice some other Iraqi men like me, an Afghani family, and a group of Congolese women. The intake goes as follows: I receive some pocket money and a food assistance check to help me while I wait for my Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to activate. Of course, this is something to get me started day-to-day in America, but I still have a long road to follow. I am not sure when and where I will start working, or how long it will be before I can stand on my own.

My case manager then talks to me about RST services and my upcoming appointments with one of her colleagues, an Employment Case Manager. We also discuss the process to enroll in a Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) Program. She helps me apply for Medicaid, sends a health referral to the Refugee Health Screening Clinic, and enrolls me in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT). She also makes copies of my Special Immigrant VISA (SIV), my medical reports, my International Organization of Migration Loan Promissory Note and Social Security Report. It's been a long day full of paperwork, so I am going home now; I feel tired just thinking about how much more we will have to do in the coming days, yet I am ready to accomplish it all.

A few days later I attend a bus orientation so that I can learn how to access Austin’s public transportation system and navigate to the RST office. Since my first full day in Austin, I have continued to notice the difference between the terrain and that of my native city: it seems a lot of people live in single-family homes here, as opposed to the high, block-style apartment buildings I am familiar with.

That same day, I attend a Cultural Orientation to learn more about how one conducts oneself in American society, as well as rights and responsibilities. After I finish the orientation, the teachers give me a test to make sure I understand everything I just learned. It was a lot to take in all at once, but I have listened as attentively as possible so I pass the test. I feel proud of myself for completing this small, initial step of adapting.

I come to the RST office again the following week, when I meet with my Employment Case Manager. We discuss my past work experience and which kinds of job opportunities I could apply to in Austin. Then, we began to build my resume and I start attending job readiness classes so that I know how interviewing and scheduling work, as well as the rules I am supposed to follow once I have a job. In the meantime, I also apply for Social Security and Energy Assistance programs, and begin the seven-week ESL class. Although I already know a lot of English, with the first lesson I am learning even more in ESL, and it is exciting, like a world that keep expanding and unfolding.

On the third week, the Employment Case Manager meets with me to tell me about some positions for which I can apply, mostly to jobs as a security guard, so we begin applying. My Resettlement Case Manager gives me my social security card, food stamp card, and Medicaid card and then we head to a Refugee Health Screening Clinic appointment for vaccinations and to set up a Primary Care Physician appointment. After the appointment, my Resettlement Case Manager and I head back to my apartment to do another home visit. The Case Manager does a check to make sure I know my home address, phone number, how to buy food, call 911, etc. The check was easy, especially when I compare it to having to visit so many offices and absorbing so much knowledge about all the programs I am enrolling in in such a short amount of time; the last three weeks have been somewhat overwhelming, but I am getting used to being busy, and I know that I will have many more processes and procedures to go through in time if I want to continue to establish myself in this country.

The time has flown by, and it is already day 90, which means the Case Manager is ready to close my case. I have been spending most of my days at work as a security guard, as well as attending Digital Literacy and other helpful skills-building classes at RST. Although I still sometimes get homesick, and am not sure what the future holds, I am beginning to feel comfortable in my new home and I am really enjoying the classes and people I am meeting at RST and in Austin.

Credits:

Created with images by jraffin - "meeting room cable four chairs round table" • Denis Bocquet - "Austin Bus with Bike" • trudi1 - "job search career work resume job hunting" • adactio - "Austin Texas"

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