Tamman Tamin knew nothing about New Zealand when he learned that he would be moving here with his family in 2016.
"We thought it was somewhere in Europe," he said.
Tamin, along with three other members of Manawatu Refugee Voice (MRV) group was a guest speaker at a refugee resettlement hui held in Whanganui on Monday night.
Jean Christophe Massimba from the African Congo capital Brazzaville, Mahdia Mirza Hussain from Afghanistan and Abdul Rashid Sharif from Myanmar (formerly Burma) all greeted the audience in te reo Māori before sharing their experiences of becoming New Zealand citizens.
"The first image we saw when we googled it was a Māori warrior and the image looked frightening to us," Tamin said.
"Forgive us because we didn't know anything of this culture."
Tamin was forced to leave Palestine, then Syria and now lives in Palmerston North where he said his family have experienced some culture shock and racism.
"My son didn't like school at first and said he was lonely because the other children didn't like him," he said.
"I told him that it took me two years to love his mother and he needed to give it time."
His son is now settled, happy and accepted, he said.
Mahdia Hussain has been in New Zealand for a year and is studying nursing at UCOL Palmerston North.
"When terrorists are taking over the land, killing your people and destroying the future for children, you need to go somewhere safe," she said.
"That is the first part and then refugees have to adapt to the reality that they can no longer live as they used to live."
Abdul Sharif said there are frustrations for refugees with qualifications and skills they are unable to share in New Zealand because of language barriers and lack of recognition for their qualifications.
"What is useful for refugees is to help them keep learning and analysing."
He said the process involves teamwork, respect, consistency, constant reviewing and building trust.
"We rely on community leaders and the availability of interpreters to help guide the process.
"We recognise that there are difficulties for all parties."
Jean Christophe Massimba said he came to New Zealand speaking only French and found the language barrier very difficult until he studied English at Massey University.
"I left my country because of war, I left to save my life and I had lost my mother and sister.
"My father had died when I was very young so the loss of my mother and sister was devastating."
Refugee life is not easy he said and he asked that people in Whanganui build a bridge between cultures by establishing trust.
"Ask how you can help and start to build relationships.
"The person you are talking to might have lost everything."
The Whanganui District is expecting to welcome 110 refugees annually from March 2020 and the hui was intended as an information and planning session for education, health and community workers.