Students went to Germany to study its integration of migrants and refugees into higher education, jobs and society.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Miranda Sieg, a second-year graduate student studying international affairs, learned this summer in Germany that education could be central to a variety of contemporary international development matters, including the assimilation of immigrant populations.
Ms. Sieg traveled to Germany this summer as part of international education professor Bernhard Streitwieser’s course called “Experience in International Education: Integration of Migrants and Refugees Into Higher Education: Case Study Germany,” offered in the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The three-credit course provides case study analysis of current international issues in higher education and allows students to travel to its country of focus for two weeks in the summer.
One of 13 students who traveled to Germany with Dr. Streitwieser as part of the class, Ms. Sieg found that education was a crucial component to how migrants and refugees in Germany integrate into society economically, socially and politically.
“Education is the best and only way for refugees to integrate into Germany,” Ms. Sieg said. “If you want to work legally, you have to have education and speak the language. Once you’ve gotten a job, then you’re making money. But it all really relies on education.”
This year, the course’s theme explored the integration of migrants and refugees into higher education in Germany, which experienced an influx of more than 1 million refugees between 2015 and 2016.
Dr. Streitwieser also instructed the course three years ago with a focus on how German universities were competing on a global scale to attract international students.
He said this year’s course gave students the opportunity to hear “a full gamut of perspectives on the German refugee integration effort” to understand how the country overcame its initial scramble to administratively process the large number of asylum requests and successfully move refugees into stable housing, schools, job training and employment.
“Students were taken on a rather intensive two-week study tour,” Dr. Streitwieser said.
Each day, he said, students met with two to three actors in Germany’s refugee integration efforts including high-level federal and state government officials from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, its newly-created Federal Office for Migrations and Refugees and mayors and spokespersons from various cities and states. They also spoke with university administrators; experts at research institutions; civil organizations coordinating services such as housing, internet access and cultural support; and students with refugee backgrounds.
Dr. Streitwieser said Germany has resolved many of its initial administrative challenges and has formalized assistance for refugees that enables them to participate in language training, job training and education. He said about 40,000 refugees have transitioned into German higher education and that early reports indicate they are acclimating and succeeding.
Ms. Sieg, who hopes to work in international conflict resolution and prevention and post-conflict development, said the experience helped her learn more about what happens after a conflict in terms of how people resettle and what the goals are for decision makers.
She said she spoke with a number of graduate students at the University of Applied Sciences Berlin who had once been refugees. The students had participated in the Integra program, which aims to offer refugees higher-level language instruction and subject-related preparatory courses. Ms. Sieg was surprised at the number of support services offered to refugees in Germany, especially in the area of education.
But she said she was most surprised with the general sense the Germans thought offering those services “were the right thing to do.”
“Granted, a lot of the reason Germany was so welcoming was because they needed a workforce,” she said, noting that one of the former refugees the group interviewed believes that Germany would prefer immigrants who arrived in the country with needed job skills.
Dr. Streitwieser said the course gave students a unique insight into how one country is “dealing with the unprecedented number of global displaced persons and refugees all around the world right now.” He noted a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revealed that the world has reached its highest levels of displaced people on record since World War II, with the number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeding 70 million in 2018.
“What is really so striking is what the students came away—the challenges that Germany is dealing with and how we reflect on those challenges as Americans in light of our own discourse right now about refugees on the Southern border, erecting walls and trying to stop the asylum process, ” Dr. Streitwieser said.
Ally Croteau, a second-year international education graduate student, said the case study course provided insights into how overall German accommodations for refugees and asylum seekers can be applied in the United States.
“There were tons of support and activities,” Ms. Croteau said.
She said two refugee housing centers in the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg, offered services and amenities such as community gardens, cafes, social-workers and counselors, translators, childcare, assistance in enrolling children into school and field trips for young residents.
“While the German system is not perfect, I think the accommodations we provide here are drastically different,” Ms. Croteau said
She said Germany has worked hard to remove kinks in its asylum efforts.
“I feel like here in the U.S., we still have this backlog of people seeking asylum and haven’t really provided the best opportunity,” Ms. Croteau said.