The Berlin experience
By Nathan Long, Ed.D.
President, Saybrook University
As many of you may know, Saybrook is going global through a partnership with TCS Education System and its colleges and universities. Our inaugural trip for Education Beyond Borders will take us to Berlin to examine the issues of immigration from a global context. Even though this experience has just begun, it has already been a breathtaking experience. One that I will surely never forget.
My daughter Simone and I are now in Berlin after what has proven to be such important bonding time between the two of us. As she begins to prepare for the next phase of her life, we thought we might take the opportunity of this Berlin experience to also extend our trip to see some of the major sights of London and Paris beforehand. From a fatherly perspective, I have treasured this time together.
Coincidentally, while walking the streets of Paris the other evening, we saw a sign hanging from a building that read “Please support the Syrian refugees”. In the midst of our privilege of spending quality time together, we were thrust back to what is happening in our world, most importantly what is happening to thinking, feeling, breathing human beings who are at the center of what has become a cultural-political storm not just in Europe but worldwide. And so it is with this important trip connecting the five colleges and universities. This thrusting back to an important and vital reality offering us the invaluable opportunity to explore various aspects of the immigrant-refugee experience: Social-political, economic, and cultural experiences that intersect with the varied, complex psychodynamics affecting whole refugee camps, families, and individuals.
Over the last few weeks, we have been reading alongside with students, faculty, administrators, and trustees about the various forms of supporting immigrant-refugee communities. Despite our best efforts at being informed educators, practitioners, and clinicians, these support processes pose challenges. Additionally, we have discovered a panoply of research outlining the various ways in which we can better understand the experience of immigrant-refugee families and individuals, especially in light of the trauma that is often experienced both in their country of origin and in the new country where they seek asylum. This process of discovery has led to a clearer understanding that one-size-does-not-fit-all with regard to how we support individuals seeking pathways to healing and integration. As a humanistic institution, we fully embrace this notion as well as the importance of working collaboratively with clients and community members in their pathway to actualize their own full potential.
We join our students from across the System in less than twenty-four hours, with readings and discussions framing what will likely be a transformative experience beyond our imaginations. Together, we will experience first-hand the work that educators, legal and healthcare practitioners, therapists, and government agencies are immersed in. Exploring the many challenges and opportunities in supporting Syrian and other immigrant-refugees, I am greatly anticipating hearing both the first- and second-hand stories of those who have been living the reality so that I might be able to understand how we as a community can offer additional layers of institutional and system-wide support. Lastly, following this experience I am hopeful that in the spirit of Saybrook University as well as TCS, we take what we have learned and turn it into further action both at home in the U.S and abroad through coursework and community engagement. We must also recognize our efforts are not the final answer; instead, our contributions hopefully will add to the global community’s efforts in support of refugees here and around the globe.
This is more than just a trip to Berlin. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. It is the start of a journey that begins at the nexus point of several cultures, institutions, and individuals coming together to explore ways of being and continues long past our arrival back in the States where we have the opportunity to educate and advance positive transformational change.
Before I conclude, I want to stress how grateful we are for our faculty and students who have been immersed in coursework these last few weeks of the semester. I anticipate learning both with them and from them as they bring incredible intellect and skills to this international table. Lastly, our trip would not have been possible without the incredible work done by TCS Education System’s Global Engagement team led by Emily Karem, Jennifer Fullick, and several others. Their tireless efforts to make this experience a reality has already had an impact on the lives of so many people.
Nathan Long, President