Opinion: Challenging perspectives on global politics

By Hayley Lemens | December 4, 2016 9:13pm

Media Credit: 19600622 and 19600622 / The Beacon

The European refugee crisis is a serious struggle that is occurring in Europe right now. Refugees are pouring into the European Union from various countries, the most well-known being Syria.

This also has been the root of many political debates here in the United States and abroad. In fact, Brexit – the vote for Great Britain to exit the European Union – is connected with this crisis as the campaign for Brexit was supported by an anti-immigrant perspective.

Prior to my study abroad experience this previous school year in Salzburg, various media reports I saw were negative and targeted those who were seeking asylum from the violence occurring mainly in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. My grandmother even asked me two days before I left to drop out because she was worried for my safety. While I appreciated the sentiment, there was no way I was dropping out of that international experience that was admittedly a big incentive for me to attend UP. So I packed up my bags and left for Austria, for an experience that has taken part in shaping who I am today.

There are two experiences that stand out in wake of this. While visiting Piran, Slovenia I met a woman who is from Seattle. She talked about how people have been so horribly prejudiced when saying that we should not help these people because they have iPhones, or for reasons just as absurd. So, since they have iPhones they are not in need of asylum from war according to people who are not in their situation. How ridiculous is that?

If ISIS were to be a problem in the United States like it is in Syria and our hometowns had turned into a war zone, would you drop everything including your iPhones when you are in need of asylum? That phone would likely be your only form of contact with your family and your friends, the only way you might know if they are safe and alive.

I also met four people who were in the process of seeking asylum in Austria, three of whom were from Syria and one who was from Afghanistan. Our Director at the UP Center, invited them to speak with us about their experiences as refugees and what I noticed was how similar we are. They were all around their early twenties. We are all around our early twenties.

They were college students. We were college students. They happened to have lived in war-torn countries and they made the decision to leave these countries for a better life.

Personally, I cannot imagine being in the position they have been in. I cannot imagine what it must have been like arriving in a foreign country with only the clothes on my back, and maybe one notebook if I was lucky. Due to this experience I know more about what it is like to travel across countries to be safe and what the process is like to gain asylum as a forcibly displaced person.

This is why international education is important; to become more than what you were before. I know I would not have the same views, opinions, and knowledge I do today without my experiences in Salzburg and across Europe.

IEW is an opportunity to hear, see, and experience things that can open your perspective just like my perspective was challenged during my year abroad.

You can support the University’s Strategic Plan: Vision 2020 and its call for diversity and inclusion on campus. Look for campus and community events regarding diversity and inclusion to come in the coming semester!

Hayley Lemens is the Salzburg Summer Coordinator and operations and a junior technology management major. She can be reached at lemens18@up.edu.