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Helping Immigrants Navigate American Financial Education

Ever find yourself feeling like you’re in uncharted waters when it comes to navigating the American economy? For immigrants and refugees, this is not only just a feeling that comes from time to time – it is their daily reality. Navigating the economic terrain of the United States can already be like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces. When you compound this with language barriers, cultural differences, and governmental disparities along with all the adjustments that come with living in a new country, it can be incredibly overwhelming.

If you’re in a role like ours, where you’re helping immigrants learn about American finances and economics, there is a significant learning curve. You can’t just deliver the standard financial economic curriculum and expect that to work—we prefer to get creative. Some factors that influence the learning process for immigrants and refugees include:

  • Differences in their familiarity with English (spoken and written)
  • Literacy in their Native language
  • Availability of support systems
  • Differences in their length of residency
  • Difference in economic structure of the U.S. and their native country.

Our primary aim is to ensure that we comprehend and honor each individual’s personal/cultural values while fostering a supportive learning environment where they can navigate the complexities of our financial system confidently.

At FHI, we are working with various partner organizations to provide Person-Centered Financial Education and financial health coaching for immigrants in Denver, CO. We work with a dynamic audience of multiple cultures that speak in a myriad of languages including Spanish, Burmese, Karen, French, Amharic, Arabic, Pashto and Dari. Each person brings their own unique experiences, culture, and personal values to the mix. How can we provide effective financial education, given all of that variability? Navigating American financial education presents its challenges – so how do we do it effectively?

These are a few key concepts we’ve found to be helpful:

  • Be person-centered — the lesson should fit the needs and desires of the person who is learning.
  • Listen carefully and engage everyone in conversation, especially when language may be a barrier.
  • Be open to learning ourselves—we know that we don’t have all of the answers.
  • Respect everyone’s personal and cultural values—they are the guides for our financial health journey.
  • Make it entertaining as well as informative. Stories and humor can enhance learning and remembering what you learned.
  • Engage people’s support systems. Don’t focus too tightly on just finances—remember the value of a person’s full economic life.
  • Develop champions among the learners so they can help everyone learn.

Given that one in ten Colorado residents and one in eight workers in Colorado are immigrants, they constitute a substantial and significant part of our economic landscape. It’s truly crucial for the well-being of our community that immigrants possess a clear understanding of finances and economics in America. We have a multifaceted, dynamic community of immigrants eager to learn how to navigate the American way of finances and economics. By adopting a person-centered approach to financial education, we can all contribute to the prosperity of our entire community.

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