Samantha Bee Shows Syrian Refugees What Life in America Is Really Like

The late-night-TV host taught a lesson about sweatpants, Netflix, and gluten.
Feb 23, 2016·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

"I can't have gluten." "I liked the book better." "Netflix and chill."

These are among the "essential American phrases" that comedian and Full Frontal host Samantha Bee taught to a group of Syrian refugees awaiting acceptance into the United States during a trip to a refugee camp in Jordan. Bee decided to take over the class after visiting a refugee family in New Jersey and discovering that they'd had a hard time adjusting to American life. The clip, the second in a two-part segment about Syrian refugees, aired Monday night during Full Frontal.

"I was surprised that no matter where people go, they wear sweatpants everywhere," one of the Syrians told Bee. It was an aspect of American culture that the classes she took while at the refugee camp in Jordan had not prepared her for. Rather, during a series of workshops about adjusting to life in America, the refugees were taught to find jobs, learn English, and not rely on government assistance.

FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis

"America is the land of opportunity. The main goal is achieving self-sufficiency," one of the instructors said. But those were just the basics. When Bee took over the class, she covered the more nuanced aspects of the culture. For example, "Can you wear sweatpants to your own wedding?" Bee asked the group. It was a trick question. "Yes, you can. Those are formal sweatpants. You have to buy them at J. Crew," she said, joking.

The clip offered a glimpse of what life is like for refugees once they've been accepted into America. In New Jersey, Bee met up with a Syrian family who escaped war in 2013 and spent years in a refugee camp in Jordan before moving to America six months ago. The family stressed to Bee how difficult it was to leave behind the home they'd built in Syria and said they'd worried about starting a new life in a different country.

Roughly 2,000 Syrians were accepted as refugees to the U.S. last year. As Bee points out, that's a small percentage of the 10,000 refugees the Obama administration has pledged to take in and an even smaller fraction of the 4.6 million Syrians who have become refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war nearly five years ago.

In the midst of calls to block refugees from entering the country, Bee has gone to great lengths to show a compassionate portrait of Syrians fleeing violence and persecution. When she traveled to a refugee camp in Jordan during the first part of the video, the Syrians she met were kind, funny, and eager to embrace American culture, including the romantic comedies they watched on basic cable in the camps.

"What we know from watching movies is that the American people are a benevolent people and they like helping people," one of the refugees told her.

The people Bee met in the class at the refugee camp had similar aspirations of living the American dream. One of the Syrian refugees said she really wanted to go to Florida. The other thing she wanted to do once she reached the U.S.? Go to the White House and take a photo next to it.