The northeastern US isn't quite a winter 'wonderland' for refugees from warmer countries

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman with The World. It’s not even officially winter yet, but I know some of you out there are already dealing with massive amounts of snow. Here’s to all our listeners in western New York, some of whom will be dealing with as much as 8 feet on the ground by the end of today. Hope you’re staying safe and warm. As winter settles in though, imagine you’ve never seen snow in your life, and you have to prepare yourself and your family for all the challenges that come with this odd, fluffy white matter falling from the sky. Ascentria Care Alliance is a faith-based organization in New Hampshire, working to help refugees resettling in the US. Beth Seremet is with Ascentria Care Alliance and she joins me now from Concord, New Hampshire. I would imagine if you’ve got Congolese getting to New Hampshire, even in July, they’re in for a shock. What is winter like for many of the refugees you meet?


Beth Seremet: None of our refugees have ever seen snow. They’re coming from Buton, Congo, Sudan and Myanmar, so it’s always quite a shock for them. We do prepare them with good winter coats and all of the necessarily warm winter clothing, as well as multiple orientations about how to stay safe and warm in the snow.


Werman: So, do they do a little research about New Hampshire before they get there or they just find themselves completely flabbergasted by how cold it is?


Seremet: Yes and yes. Every refugee attends cultural orientation overseas before they come to the US. But no one can really mimic the true impact of snow, so it’s definitely a shock the first time that they see it.


Werman: So, coats you provide them with; what else is on your punch list for winter assimilation?


Seremet: Whether they come in July or January, every individual has a winter coat, a hat, a pair of gloves and a scarf waiting for them in their apartment, and they’re told what it’s for. In July, they look at us like we’re crazy, and in January we’re their best friends. But the biggest thing that we do is in our cultural orientation that is broken up into eight segments, three of those touch on the importance of staying warm, not getting frostbite, what to expect when the colder months come.


Werman: I know what cold is about, I’ve lived in the northeast, but when I got up to upstate New York, it was a cold I had never experienced. People were like “You need to have a dry blanket in the car, you need to keep a nice warm pair of socks dry somewhere.” Do you have trouble with getting people to understand how dangerous cold and snow can be?


Seremet: We haven’t had any incidences related to the cold, so I think that prevention is really key. We partner with the Red Cross, who is coming December 2nd to do a real hands-on intensive winter weather acclimation, and they will send each participant home with a safety kit.


Werman: Any of those refugees watching TV right now and seeing Buffalo on CNN and saying “Hope that doesn’t come here.”


Seremet: Yes, and the ones that have come in previous years are telling them all these snow stories about sledding and skating, and “You have to be really careful,” and people are looking at them and they kind of get it, but they have no idea what’s coming for them.


Werman: Yeah, learn from the veterans. Beth Seremet with Ascentria Care Alliance, thank you very much.


Seremet: Absolutely. Thank you.