When Lucy Kairumba got off the plane from her home country of Uganda, she spoke English, but wasn't prepared for some of the subtler distinctions in American language.
"I was walking in Washington and a man asked me for change. So I gave him four quarters, and I was standing there waiting for a dollar," the Howard County resident recalls.
"But he never gave me the dollar."
Understanding nuances of the language is just one of many aids that county help groups -- such as Foreign-born Information and Referral Network -- can offer to new arrivals.
Members of FIRN and about 30 others gathered at Howard Community College on Tuesday night to share information about help to foreigners who are new to the United States and Howard County.
The meeting was a cultural diversity program offered by Community Building in Howard County, said Jean Toomer, a member of CBHC.
"We try tobring together people who would ordinarily not come together," she said.
CBHC was started about three years ago because of an increaseof hate crimes in the county, Toomer said.
FIRN helps foreigners get accustomed to life in the county -- from helping them study for adriving test and English language classes to assisting with the naturalization process.
FIRN, which is about 10 years old, will assistany foreigner regardless of citizenship status, she said.
The diversity of Howard County is increasing, said FIRN executive director Patricia Hatch. Last year FIRN assisted 1,796 people from 70 differentcountries -- a 92 percent increase from two years ago when they aided 934 people. The predominant countries of origin for FIRN clients include Mexico, Vietnam, Korea, Haiti, China, Liberia, Jamaica, Soviet Union, El Salvador and Taiwan, Hatch said.
"In Howard County thereare several types of cultures with their own views and traits, and they do not always mesh with others. And that's where some problems occur," said OH Laster, who chairs a cultural diversity committee for CBHC. "We're here to see what we can do so that the minority culture doesn't adversely affect the majority culture, and the majority culture doesn't adversely affect the minority culture."
People from other countries come to the United States and have no idea how to get a job or fill out forms and these groups help in the transition process,Hatch said.
There is a need for Americans to learn about culturesoutside of the U.S. borders, Kairumba said.
"When I say I'm from Uganda, all people know about is Idi Amin. Idi Amin is not all there is to Uganda," Kairumba said.
Those attending last week's meeting offered contacts who can offer special help for Italian-Americans andLatin-Americans to new arrivals from all countries.
"In Howard County there are several sets of people that need to embrace diversity because it is here to stay," said Olusola Seriki, who was born in Nigeria and has lived in Howard County for four years.
FIRN is holding its first International Cabaret 6 p.m. today at the Meeting House near the Oakland Mills Village Center. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door and the proceeds go to help fund FIRN's programs, Hatch said.
There will be food from area ethnic restaurants and international music and entertainment including African drums, Indian dancers and Balinese gamelan and dancers.