Experiencing the hardships of refugee life

Interrogation, cornmeal mush and changed identities characterized this last weekend for 27 SPU students who took part in Urban Involvement’s latest event, the Refugee Project.

Aimed at putting students out of their comfort zones, the Refugee Project focused on helping the students experience first-hand what it is like to be a refugee in America.

The first day of the project the students were taken to World Relief, the program’s sponsor, and introduced to several refugees as well as the director of the program. According to freshman participant Laura Trudeau, the students kept busy on Friday with a talk by the director of World Relief on refugees in the Bible, a Chinese dinner at ABC gardens, and a walk through the International District.

"The walk through the International District was meant to put the students out of their comfort zone, making them feel what it is like to be a minority," coordinator Krystel Porter said.

Trudeau agreed with that the walk was an eye-opening experience.

"Although I have been to the International District before, this time I focused on how I was different, and I noticed that there were only two other white people," Trudeau said.

According to Porter, after the walk the students were taken back to World Relief and shown a video on the interview process that a refugee goes through when entering the United States.

"Normally when I hear about how refugees and immigrants are treated by officers I become very angry, but this video gave both the perspectives of the refugee and the INS officer," sophomore Kim Hughes said.

Another perspective was offered on Saturday, when, according to Hughes, the group of students were given the opportunity to live a day in the life of a refugee.

According to Porter, the students went through a series of simulations in which they were given an entire detailed history, identity and family of an actual refugee.

"We were given the key information about a person, including their life story. We then had to memorize their story, dress up in a costume, and essentially become that person for a day," Porter said.

According to Porter, the group was split up into six family units, each from a different country. The countries represented were Burma, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine, Somalia and Iraq. The students had the costumes, traditions and social habits of their groups’ culture.

Trudeau was part of the Ukraine family group. She said the most difficult part of the simulation for her was remembering to keep quiet.

"In Ukraine only the father speaks. The mother speaks when spoken to, and the children say nothing at all," Trudeau said.

Another difficulty that arose from the simulation were feelings of humility, claimed sophomore Rochelle Joslyn.

"I felt like I was belittling the real experience that this person went through, and was surprised that she would be okay with me imitating her," Joslyn said. "It was a different kind of being humbled for me."

According to Porter, the students visited four stations throughout the International District including a medical screening, a visit to a refugee food camp and interviews with the Department of State and the United Nations.

The interviews were nerve-wracking, according to Hughes.

"It was difficult to remember all of the facts of my person, as well as remember to keep my profile of a Somali girl by refraining from eye-contact, all while being yelled at," Hughes said.

According to Hughes, the interviewers have to be tough in order to find out why a particular person or family should be let into a country.

Senior Traci Randolph was shaken by her experience of having to prove that she was a Christian.

"It was hard to remember even simple things like Bible verses because of the pressure that we were under," Randolph said.

According to Randolph, one student in her group even forgot the words to John 3:16.

Following the simulation, the students participated in a Chinese lesson, according to Porter.

"The Chinese lesson lasted about 20 minutes, and the entire time the teacher spoke and yelled at us in Chinese," Porter said.

According to Porter, the lesson was meant to show the students the difficulty of learning a new language when moving to a new country.

A final lesson in the confusion of a new culture was given to the students in the form of a game, according to Porter. Each family group was seated at a separate table. Each table had its own set of rules, and people moved from table to table with each win or loss. The catch? No one was allowed to speak.

"It was extremely confusing to have to learn an entire set of new rules without being able to use language," Hughes said.

However confusing, the methods used by World Relief seemed to get the point across, agreed Hughes and Porter.

"The simulation, games and lessons were all very tangible and eye-opening experiences of what it must be like to be a refugee," Hughes said.

Porter enjoyed the Refugee Project and encourages students to participate in the project next year, as well as reach out to the community through World Relief.

"Refugee Project was definitely a good way for me to break out of the SPU bubble and to open my eyes. It has really made me realize how much God has blessed me and how much I take for granted," Hughes said.

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Title: Experiencing the hardships of refugee life | Author: Fiona Sortor | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-11-27 | Internal ID: 2994