Intercambio promotes inclusion through education and conversations

Lee Shainis, executive director and co-founder of Intercambio: Uniting Communities, cultivates a world where people from different cultural backgrounds connect, communicate and engage. Since starting the Colorado-based non-profit, Shainis has promoted immigrant integration through community events, resource sharing and English as a second language, or ESL, classes.

Thanks to the newly released curriculum, Confidence and Connections, ESL teachers and students can build relationships and freely speak and engage with the English language. Each lesson includes vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and a culture tip that concludes conversations between teachers and students. Discussions center on their perspectives and dreams, as well as cultural and societal differences between the United States and the students’ home countries. “This two-way learning empowers us to build those relationships and learn more from each other. When the conversations are interesting and relevant to their lives, our students learn English more effectively,” said Shainis.

Since introducing the Immigrant Guide: What Every Immigrant Needs to Know, Intercambio has helped thousands of newcomers feel more confident and safe in their communities. Shainis was inspired to create this guide after hearing the stories, experiences and challenges faced by the immigrant community, many of whom fell victim to fraud. Some community members ended up making payments over the phone to people claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, others were fined for fishing without a legal permit or had officers pointing their gun at them during a traffic stop after exiting their car. These honest mistakes stemmed from experiences and expectations in their home countries — and not fully understanding ‘typical’ U.S. norms.

Through his research, Shainis realized that most of the materials and resources available for newcomers were designed for people with higher degrees, who are documented. Shainis wanted to create a guide that was accessible, brief and applied to all immigrants regardless of their legal status or their education level. After conducting interviews with the immigrant community, Shainis released the guide. The publication, filled with colorful and diverse images, is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Burmese, French, Karen, Nepali and Somali. It begins with vocabulary, then dives into cultural and societal norms and social taboos. “The Immigrant Guide is not a resource to help people assimilate,” said Shainis. “We just want people to know what is typical. One section is about responding to invitations. In the United States, it is common to politely decline an invitation. In some cultures, you would never directly decline an invitation. Which way is better? Neither, but it is important to introduce the concept for everyone to understand and discuss these differences."

The guide also helps the receiving community, as they reflect on the reality that most newcomers have to work through. The guide has been welcomed by teachers and volunteers alike and used to build empathy with and for immigrants.

CLINIC applauds Intercambio: Uniting Communities and their work, which helps build integrated and welcoming communities. For more promising initiatives to incorporate in your community, visit the Center for Immigrant Integration's webpage. Don’t forget to email to tell us how your organization is promoting integration!


Community members coming together through shared languages