Imagine moving to a foreign country where you don’t know the language — or the culture and customs of its people. Now imagine starting a business or going to school there.
I can’t wrap my mind around that and yet, all of my grandparents emigrated here from Greece in the early 1920s, speaking little to no English and starting up candy shops and restaurants to support their families.
It is this experience that bolsters my profound respect for the folks who are daring enough to leave a familiar home to start anew in a strange land.
A couple with the same mindset, husband and wife team, Alan Headbloom (host) and Kim Roberts (creator and executive producer) have created a television show, Feel Like You Belong (FLYB), that shares the life stories of immigrants, expatriates and refugees to the United States. Now in its third year, FLYB celebrates its 100th episode, Anan Ameri: Love and Leadership in Arab America, on WKTV this month.
FLYB’s goal is to help immigrants acclimate to our community and learn colloquialisms of the English language, such as slang and humor. Since the program’s inception, people from Guatemala, Vietnam, the Middle East, Bhutan, the Dominican Republic and other places across the globe have shared their cultural experiences on-camera.
“Different is not bad,” said Headbloom, who teaches English as a second language and has an extensive background as an applied linguist and cross-cultural consultant. “Different is just different. White Americans — especially West Michiganders — need to get out and meet people who have accents and better tans than they do. That’s the only way we’re going to survive in this globally diversifying world.”
In addition to helping new residents acclimate to new surroundings, the show helps make a difference in how Americans perceive those who are beginning their lives anew in our country. With a few exceptions, most interviewees live and work in the greater Grand Rapids area.
“It’s a two-way street: Just as immigrants learn about our culture, we glean fascinating insights in our own culture and language, plus we’re exposed to other cultures. It’s a win-win,” said Headbloom.
The FLYB website archives the interviews as well as short educational segments for immigrants to learn from — including tips on culture and etiquette, lessons on American English grammar and slang, and examples of American humor (which is the hardest part of learning a new language). There’s also a blog for natives to educate themselves on issues of language, race/ethnicity and culture.
Headbloom finds that the most challenging aspect of the show is having to train new crew every semester.
“We have no budget, so all crew members (production and post-production) are unpaid college interns.”
Roberts is a film/video professor at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). Headbloom has made a career of coaching international workers on how to live and communicate among Americans. He trains Americans how to work with local co-workers from overseas as well as their foreign-based counterparts around this shrinking globe. He also does training and facilitation around race, ethnicity, unconscious bias, respect in the workplace and diversity/inclusion. He finds the show rewarding on several levels.
“It validates the immigrant experience and tells non-immigrant viewers that these stories, these humans are important too,” Headbloom said. “Everyone wants to be heard, be acknowledged. Many are honored to have a public forum for sharing their journey, both the challenges and the successes.”
And FLYB is making a difference in the community.
“I recently heard from a newer viewer, an 85-year-old conservative, white suburban male,” said Headbloom. “He told me he was unhappy about the country’s immigration ‘problem’ but found that watching our shows made ‘them’ seem like real people.
“In particular, I believe he was referencing Natanael “Nate” Krische’s story. Mr. Krische came here at age 18 without documents from Guatemala. He worked at odd jobs (often underpaid or unpaid) until he got his green card and then citizenship. Today, Mr. Krische employs seven area workers at his janitorial company. He is making jobs for — not taking them away from — other Americans.”
Feel Like You Belong airs on WKTV Channel 25 (Comcast) and Channel 99 (ATT) Mondays at 8:30 pm and Wednesdays at 10:30 am. FLYB also airs on GRTV (Grand Rapids) and HCTV (Holland). Outside the area, folks can follow FLYB on its website, where the team archives all their interviews as well as the educational segments 24/7.