In between the class visits and the Cultural Fair, delegates participated in a forum about the Refugee Crisis in Europe. The forum consisted of a panel with one student each from Lebanon, France, Italy and Spain, and was facilitated by Collegiate students. It was open to and attended by members across the Collegiate community, including teachers and students from multiple disciplines. After an influx of interest from the Upper School community, three forums were offered over the course of the day.
The international students explained the situations in their countries and answered questions from those in attendance.
This particular forum was so special because each panelist is currently living through this crisis; these students are not mere bystanders to this overwhelming situation, but rather they are seeing an immediate impact in their daily routines as a result of this growing issue. In conversations throughout the forum, it became apparent that the American audience does not get the full picture of what is actually occurring in Europe regarding this crisis. Therefore, it was particularly important that the Collegiate community was able to hear about such a global issue through very specific perspectives that are not always highlighted in the news.
For example, one Lebanese student, Adam, provided a poignant, sobering anecdote in which he described a taxi driver he met in Lebanon. Upon boarding his taxi, Adam struck up a conversation with the driver. Adam quickly discovered that the driver held a master’s degree in electrical engineering but was unable to work because of the situation in Syria. Adam used this example as a platform to explain how the media portrays refugees:
“[The media talks] about [refugees] as if they are objects…They make it look like it’s a burden to have these things, but they are people. On my way to school and back there are refugees who have set up mattresses on the side of the road and they are just sleeping there. Now there are even more beggars. I don’t think it should even be a question. Just from one human to another, yes, we will help you. I think they are trying to preserve their status as a higher class, and that’s totally unfair.” – Adam S. (Lebanon)
An audience member from Mexico chimed in on the conversation as well. He explained that, while the crisis in Europe does not realize as large of an impact in his country, we are still responsible, as humans, to handle this situation with as much empathy and compassion as possible:
“We are citizens of the world. We have to be conscious that [the refugees] are not [just] Middle-Eastern people. They are humans…One day we could be the ones that are asking others to help us.” – Juan Pablo J. (Mexico)
In dealing with such a massive problem, it is inevitable that solutions will emerge, and the forum explored this task as well. The common thread in all of the possible solutions discussed was the involvement of the media. The panelists explained how the media does not always represent the crisis as a whole, as images that do not provide some form of shock value are normally not the focus of a headline. Given the incredible influence of the media, the students concluded it is crucial that an authentic, encompassing picture is painted in the press:
“The first step in changing people’s mindsets is through the media.” – Layla T. (Lebanon)
At the end of the forum, one lesson was particularly prominent: in order to be global citizens, it is imperative that we fully understand and take into account the vast number of perspectives present cross-culturally.