Understanding the Perspectives of Others: European History Dives Into Refugee Crisis

For the past several years, Muriel Croston’s Honors Modern European History class has taken a deep dive into the refugee crisis occurring across the globe. In an annual project, sophomores develop and complete interviews with policymakers, aid groups, and other sources to better understand the refugee crisis and its complexities. 

Lucia Rathke ‘21 interviewed a volunteer teacher in Austria. "This woman is a German teacher in the small town of Auerbach,” said Lucia. “[She] has extensively volunteered with immigrants since 2015, mostly by teaching them German language classes.” Lucia completed the interview in German over Skype. 

“My biggest takeaway from the interview was the persistence of problems refugees face even after they move to another country. She talked about the difficulties of overcoming the language barrier and assimilating into Austrian society as a foreigner, especially as not everyone in Austria welcomes the presence of refugees,” said Lucia. “I also valued her advice, which was to keep an open mind and to engage with people different from yourself, as this often helps people become more accepting and open to others, especially refugees.”

Sara Manzano-Davila ‘21 and Marianna Bonilla ‘21 interviewed internationally-renowned National Geographic photographer Reza. Sara and Marianna are both artists themselves, a special connection to the interview. 

“Even though we may think art is just art, it always means something,” said Sara of Reza’s photographs of refugees. 

Marianna said that she learned “how powerful a connection can be” from the interview. “During our interview, Reza made an analogy to how we’re all connected. He compared this connection to our bodies. He said that if someone were to hurt some part of our body, the rest of our body would still be in great pain. He believes that if there is a crisis in the world, it will have an impact on the rest, and it has,” said Marianna. “Reza has used this connection to try to spread the obstacles, courage, and pain behind what we call a ‘crisis,’ but refugees and migrants call life.”

Sara appreciated the authenticity in Reza’s art, while Marianna spoke of her own craft as a photographer: “When taking pictures, I’ve always felt a pressure to make them look a certain way that will make others like them, but Reza changed the way I view photography. [Some] photographers would stage the scenarios and the emotions they wanted in their photographs. However, Reza’s vision is reality. He photographs what he sees and what he feels. He doesn’t believe he can do this without connecting physically and emotionally with refugees, so when he goes to document a famine, he fasts 72 hours before. I believed these actions to be sacrifices, but it is truly the least we could do. When looking at Reza’s photographs you are able to feel an instant emotion.”

Marianna cited one particular work of Reza’s, called “Wounded Innocence,” of a little girl with vibrant green eyes. “There is so much more than just the color. The realness, and the girl’s stare produce a feeling of strength and courage, but we can also see the damage to her innocence and childhood,” said Marianna. “Behind that stare, there is a girl who wants to play, learn, and have a joyful childhood, but this has been taken away. The only way to achieve this emotion is to connect like Reza does, which makes his photographs more than just an image. His ability to connect with refugees and migrants’ obstacles turns them into stories.”  

Lilee Keeler ‘21 interviewed two graduate students from Georgetown University. “It was so interesting to be able to connect with other students on this issue,” she said. One woman is from Jordan, while the second student is from the Midwest. 

Lilee noted that through the project, she learned the importance of education. “A lot of the problems in today’s world are [due to] a lack of education. Not only do these immigrants and refugees, who in the future will make up almost half of the population, lack education, but we do too,” she said. “A lot of the stigma and negativity regarding the importance of immigrants and their valuable perspective to society can be attributed to our ignorance on this issue.”

She now feels encouraged to begin educating others and have discussions about important things in the world like the refugee crisis. 

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