One of the areas that I’m going to explore as a Technology Fellow is the use of videoconferencing tools in my course on the situation of the refugees in Europe (GER/GIS/GWS 262). This course explores the refugee crisis in Europe with a special focus on the case of Germany, where more than one million refugees and migrants arrived in 2015 alone. The course is cross-listed with German Studies, Global Islamic Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies and has a FLAC section in German attached to it.
During the first half of the semester, students got an overview of the situation of the refugees in Europe: the different routes taken by the refugees; the role of the smugglers; abuse, exploitation, and human rights violations along the way; gender issues; European refugee and asylum policies; the Common European Asylum System and the distribution of refugees among the EU member states; the lack of solidarity among the EU member states; Europe’s reception system and conditions; restrictive policies such as fence-building and push-backs; and anti-foreigner rhetoric and xenophobia in several European countries.
During the second half of the semester, we are focusing on the case of Germany, the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications in Europe. We started with an overview of Germany’s history of migration before exploring the current public debates in Germany.
One of the highlights of the semester is the international collaboration with local organizations, schools, NGOs, and refugees from Germany who join us live via videoconferencing.
Our first videoconference took place right before spring break. After learning about the role of the central reception centers for refugees in Germany and the first (legal) steps refugees have to take in Germany, the students – in pairs – prepared the interview questions for Nele Brüser, Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein. The role of the weekly student assistant was then to collect and organize the interview questions and to email them to our German partners in advance – as well as to follow up with them afterwards.
The first videoconference exceeded all our expectations: after introducing themselves in German(!), the students and Nele Brüser had a very lively, engaged, and thoughtful discussion about her work and the situation of the refugees at the reception center Neumünster. In their written reflections, the students highlighted how much they had enjoyed the first-hand exchange, how “real“ the refugee situation now felt for them and how much they appreciated Nele Brüser’s dedication and honesty. The feedback we got from Germany after the videoconference was equally enthusiastic.
Both the students and I are very excited about meeting our remaining interview partners via Skype: we are going to talk to a refugee from Afghanistan and his German “tandem partner,” and in the remaining weeks of the semester, we will be joined by a teacher who teaches German to refugee children at a high school in Hamburg, three social workers whose projects focus on the special situation of young male and female refugees respectively, and a music teacher who works on integrating refugee and migrant children and teaching them the German language through different music projects.