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From Job Skills To People Skills: Learning U.S. Ways

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From Job Skills To People Skills: Learning U.S. Ways

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From Job Skills To People Skills: Learning U.S. Ways

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Fort Wayne, Indiana, has become a destination of sorts, for immigrants from troubled countries - Bosnia, Darfur, Burma. And that has led to some cultural misunderstandings. Our next story comes out of one in particular. A laundromat recently posted a sign saying ethnic Burmese were not welcome. Apparently, they'd been spitting a tobacco-like substance on the floor. Here's Erika Celeste.

ERIKA CELESTE: That's, in large part, because the U.S. State Department uses Fort Wayne extensively as a refugee resettlement site. It now houses the largest Burmese community in the country. Minn Myint Nan Tin is with the Burmese Advocacy Center here. She says keeping the melting pot from boiling over is sometimes a delicate balancing act.

MINN MYINT NAN TIN: Sometimes people need to take time to adjust in a new place, in a new culture, a new system, and you cannot excuse it either, you know, if your behavior - it doesn't matter if you're American or Burmese or Latin or African.

CELESTE: Phyu Phyu Aye, a Burmese refugee who's been in the U.S. for a decade, teaches sewing, but advises her students on many cultural issues.

PHYU PHYU AYE: (Foreign language spoken)

CELESTE: Students taking a computer class in an adjoining room overhear our discussion and the teacher comes over to join in. Nyein Kyaoo says he repeatedly reminds students of the most basic things, like not driving without a license.

NYEIN KYAOO: Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) probably like, you know, American movies.

KYAOO: Yeah. Now, they watch the movie and they act like a movie star.

CELESTE: She says language barriers waste precious time in emergencies. Paxia gives an example of being confused after a car accident. Instead of dialing 911, she dialed 118, the number she would have used in Italy.

IRENE PAXIA: Just right away I was brought back to reality, how things can be difficult for me as well.

CELESTE: But first responders face another obstacle. Many immigrants come from countries where officials are considered corrupt and crimes go unreported. During the Multicultural Council meeting, volunteer Lili Carroll and firefighter Jim Murua worry that this makes refugees afraid to report crimes here.

LILI CARROLL: That's the crucial part as well. The policemen should also be wearing their uniforms.

JIM MURUA: I had a few of my inspectors come out, educators come out, and they did it in plain clothes first and then put their uniforms on and came out and said, hey look, we're the same person. Don't be afraid of us. And this all came out...

CELESTE: For NPR News, I'm Erika Celeste in Fort Wayne.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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