A New Start

Waldron is proud to acknowledge the volunteer work and commitments of Carol Sage-Silverstein, Senior Consultant in Career Transition Services, to Jewish Family Services here in Seattle. 

Jewish Family Services, founded in the late 19th century, helps vulnerable individuals and families across the globe achieve well-being, health, and stability, both in and outside of the Jewish community. Their services span a range of potential needs; counseling for survivors of domestic violence, adults with cognitive disabilities, underserved elderly, individuals with food-insecurities, as well as refugees and immigrants. 

Carol uses her years of experience as a career transition coach to help immigrants adjust to American professional culture, and the nuances of the job search process. She works to ‘train the trainers.’ Namely, she creates the programs and workshops that recent immigrants can attend to help gain their professional footing in what can be a very difficult transition. The workshops give people the tools to help them understand aspects of their culture that may have been too ubiquitous to be visible while in their native countries, and that often differ sharply from American customs. “In order to understand American culture, people have to be able to understand and talk about their own culture, which some of them have never had to do before,” says Carol in reference to the culture shock immigrants can experience while adjusting to their new location. This building of cross-cultural literacy, or “bridge-building” as she calls it, is key for immigrants to eventually find and succeed in jobs. While some workshop attendees have been in the US for several months, some have arrived only days before. This means that the volunteers have to account for a diverse audience with different degrees in understanding of American culture. However, all participants do have something in common: they are all highly educated and left middle-class jobs in their native countries. 

Carol says adjusting expectations of what their first job in the US will likely be is usually the hardest message to get across. Many of the immigrants come from countries were working in a factory is extremely demeaning, and are hesitant to consider accepting such positions. After working hard to receive master’s and PH.d’s from prestigious universities abroad, immigrants want to enter into the American workforce at the same level from which they exited their own. It is difficult for a doctor to accept work as a taxi driver in the US because a degree or certification doesn’t translate internationally.

However, there is a promise of hope. While mentoring and coaching, Carol finds a way to introduce and connect recent immigrants to individuals that are further down this path, and show them other that have made it. She tries to emphasize that their first job in this country doesn’t necessarily reflect what they will be doing in five, 10 or 15 years. While many immigrants’ perceptions and expectations of American life are heavily influenced by celebrities seen in the media, taking factory jobs and working up from the bottom is the story of the American immigrant. 

While she has only been working with the organization since December of 2015, Carol says that the volunteering has been very fulfilling and eye-opening. After learning that the majority of the refugees were from Afghanistan and Iraq, in this racially tense climate, Carol wondered if any would be any hesitancy to accept help from a Jewish organization. Instead, she said the reaction has been just the opposite. “They don’t care, they don’t even mention it. I mean, they want acceptance, too. That is the America they came for,” she says. Sage-Silverstein says that outside of creating these workshops and advising trainers, she meets with individuals and families to provide more personalized guidance. She says the range of life stories and short-term goals vary widely. Some refugee immigrants have experienced trauma or political persecution in their own countries, and want the consistency of a low-pressure job that might appear repetitive and boring to others. Whatever their goals, cultural literacy and a supportive community are essential to a productive transition.

Topics: Community Impact