A Refugee Experience

Students in Maria Clara Rekow’s Spanish 6 class experienced this week what it might be like to be a refugee fleeing one’s country in search of asylum. From deciding what to take with them on their journey to being interviewed by an immigration official, the refugee simulation helped students better understand the difficulties immigrants encounter when seeking to enter a new country. The exercise was the culminating enrichment activity in a unit that allowed students to research and learn more about human rights in various Latin American countries.

This is the third year of the refugee simulation and students said the experience was eye- opening and helped to personalize the struggles experienced by many immigrants. In years past, students role-played as Latin immigrants entering other countries. For this exercise, however, the tables were turned and students were asked, as Americans, to consider the possibility that they would seek to flee from the United States. They had to create a set of circumstances under which they were seeking safety elsewhere and be prepared to answer the questions an immigration official might ask, possibly in a language unknown to them. Admittedly, students said that coming up with “their stories” about why they’d leave the U.S. wasn’t easy, given the importance the U.S. places on human rights. A major takeaway for class participants: “You can’t just make assumptions (about immigrants).”

As part of their study, the students also held a Skype conference with a member of the International Commission for Human Rights; researched human rights violations in Latin American countries through the Amnesty International web page; and wrote letters in Spanish to authorities in Venezuela and Nicaragua to advocate for those whose rights have been violated.