There are numerous reasons why a person would choose to move to another country. It could be to study or work abroad, to follow a spouse, or to experience something new. No matter the reason, expats will always need to adapt to their new country, and this period of transition can sometimes be tough.
An article on the Digital Public Library mentions that “immigrating to a new country is a daunting and complicated task. You are surrounded by new customs, new people, possibly a new language, and paperwork”. Word is that for a lot of expats, libraries can help a great deal in adapting to a new country. Indeed, by identifying newcomers as a different segment of the community and personalizing the communications to them, libraries can impact the life of newcomers in many ways.
In this blog post, a few expats around the world share their experience on how the library helped them adapt to their new life. We will also present 8 different activities that libraries are offering or can offer to help expats in their everyday life.
1. Access to a wide range of books
One thing is for sure when you move to a new country, your social network is not going to be as big as it used to be. Therefore, expats will have more free time than before.
Everyone knows that reading books for free is what you can do at the library. No matter where you are in the world, libraries are like a sanctuary where you know you can just go and read. It might just be exactly what newcomers need when they feel like they have nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Being new in a country is certainly difficult with a new language, new customs etc. The reason why we leave for another country is to live a new experience and what better way to become part of the community than to go visit the library. For almost 5 years now, I have been living in Casablanca, Morocco. In Morocco, libraries are less accessible because there are very few of them. Nothing really changed in the library I go to; all is done on paper cards, they rely on volunteers and they have a great knowledge of literature. It feels quite vintage.
What I like about my local library is that it’s a way to meet new people, a place where we can exchange a few words and get to know each other. It is now a ritual, we go every week to discover new titles. There are not a lot of events compared to other European libraries, but it feels comfortable when you go in. We are very happy to have the library services available, even if it’s very small and vintage! Now my son adores reading, he often meets with his friend at the library.
– Chamsi Dib, Casablanca
2. Info about the city and the library
Some libraries are already walking the extra mile to efficiently target newcomers. CBC Canada wrote an article on how “The Idea Exchange in Cambridge is offering bilingual tours to help newcomers get comfortable with the library and connect with other speakers of their language.” Other libraries may even offer a free guided tour around the city.
Discovering a new city can take time as you need to start from scratch, find your new favorite restaurants, your new favorite shopping spots, coffee shop, etc. Of course, Google and Tripadvisor can help, but there is nothing like a recommendation from locals. Some libraries are now offering city guides that they created for newcomers and tourists.
3. Access to language classes
Moving to another country could also mean learning a completely new language. Learning a language is a long process as it requires time and often money because most language classes can be quite expensive.
However, numerous libraries around the world are now offering language classes to help newcomers learn the language of their adoptive country. Some of them even offer other languages, which can be great for expats if they want their children to learn how to speak and write in their mother tongue.
“My husband and I were already members of the library before we left our home country and we regularly brought our children there. As we moved to a fairly remote area of Texas, we did not have high expectations of the library there, but we never stopped being pleasantly surprised. Not only has the new library just been built, but it is beautiful and inspiring. My children are not first of class in reading for nothing! In addition, there are French classes, which allows us to help preserve the native language of our children.
It’s a weekly meeting!”
– Texas Mama Blog, Texas
4. Activities for children
It’s not rare anymore to hear that a family with children decided to move to a new country because they got a job offer they couldn’t refuse or maybe they simply wanted to try something new. A major concern for families is to find a way to make sure their children will be happy with the decision to move.
Libraries can be the best place for children to meet new friends, enjoy nice storytimes, visit games rooms, get access to art and craft rooms, etc. They even often have a kids space specifically for them.
“In July 2017, we moved to Brussels in Belgium with our three kids. When my husband started to work in August, I was alone with the three girls and with no friends anywhere around us. One of my first thoughts was to go visit the library. First, because I knew books would keep us busy and secondly, I was hoping my kids would get to play with other kids. We speak French and we are lucky that French is one of the two spoken languages in Belgium so we were able to find great books for everyone.
Also, we discovered some of their activities and they are also renting games (Ludotheque). Moreover, every summer on Thursday afternoons, two employees go to a nearby park to read books to kids. It helps us to connect with nature, but with other kids as well. It was simple to find our communal library, to become a member and to use it. We’ve been in Brussels for more than one year and we continue to visit it occasionally.”
– Annie Thériault, Brussels
5. Guidance with immigration papers
Moving to a new country is a lot of paperwork. There are a lot of forms to fill out before leaving, but also when arriving at the new destination. It can be very overwhelming and bring a lot of stress to expats.
More and more libraries are offering help to get through that long and overwhelming process. They give guidance and make sure that the process is as smooth as it can be.
“As a Canadian who moved to Aarhus in Denmark to live and work, I found that the library played an integral part in my transition to my new surroundings. At the library, I was able to receive help and guidance with completing my required documentation for entering the country. The library was also an establishment where I could print documents and obtain information on my new city.
It has also provided me a place where I could learn about starting a local business through workshops that have been put on by the library. On a more casual note, the library in Aarhus I regularly go to has a great seating area and café where I can go to relax and read or view the gorgeous city that surrounds the library. The library has been a great resource for me in my integration into my new home.”
– Marc Lapointe, Aarhus
6. Access to printing, scanning and copying
Talking about immigration documents, most of them need to be printed out, filled out and signed before you can send them to the immigration service. It’s well-known that many libraries offer all the basic functions such as print, scan or copy. And let’s be honest, a printer wouldn’t be the first thing you think about buying when you move to a new country.
7. Free cultural activities
Moving to a new country also means that expats will have to adapt to a new culture. They will discover new food, new trends, new music bands, new art forms, etc. It is part of the experience to learn as much as possible about the new culture and what’s the best way to do so then to go to cultural activities organized by the library?
A lot of libraries now offer free music shows, local art exhibitions and even cooking classes. What a great way to learn while meeting the local and international communities of the new country.
“We are an expat family in New England and our library is actually our first link to our charming, adoptive town. Several activities are organized, including reading clubs, music shows, exhibitions, etc. by local artists. It also hosts weekly discussion sessions called “English Circle” which allows those who wish to improve their ability to communicate in English. I consider that we are privileged to have such a dynamic and inclusive library.”
– Stephanie Gagnon, New England
8. Help to find a job
Finding a job in a country where you know almost no one can be quite difficult, especially because each country has a different process when it comes to finding a job. For some countries, Linkedin is the place to go and for others, it is not. As an expat, it can be difficult to know what the best way is to find a job.
Many libraries offer free workshops where they offer help to newcomers to find a job. Libraries can help newcomers find the right Facebook group or Community Organisations that can help them find a new job.
Libraries can definitively be a major game-changer for expats. Not only because of all those activities but mainly because libraries are a place where newcomers can go and meet people. They can meet new friends, locals or other expats. It is basically the first and easiest place where most expats can create their new social network. After all, isn’t that what libraries are all about? Bringing communities together and ensuring their well-being.
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