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LVC Student Builds Global Awareness in Germany

Historic Building in Wurzburg, Germany

While studying abroad in Würzburg, Germany, Ibsen Powers ’17 experienced a unique opportunity—he volunteered with German university students at local refugee housing. Facilitated by Dr. Rick Chamberlin, associate professor of German and French, students prepared tea and snacks to share while speaking with refugees regarding the struggles of arriving and living in the country. Powers was able to interact with refugees from a number of different countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ethiopia. 

“The purpose of this time was to give the refugees an opportunity to speak German and encourage them to discuss their time in the country,” explains Powers. “In addition, it provided the university students the chance to hand out surveys and gather information regarding how the residents felt their housing and general experience was going.” 

In addition to providing Powers with the opportunity to practice his German language skills, he was able to connect this experience to the course, Global Issues in German Society, which he had taken during his spring semester at The Valley. In the course, students discussed the impact of the refugee crisis on Europe and Germany, which was the largest recipient of refugees in 2015.

“It was incredible to hear the stories each person had and how they traveled from their native countries to Germany, and to be able to speak first-hand with individuals directly impacted by these global events,” recounts Powers. 

Powers found the refugees to be very open to talking with the students regarding their time in the country. He noted regular interaction with a young boy, Ayman, who had been separated from his family eight months earlier when they arrived in Germany. 

“It was really interesting to be able to find a common interest with someone from a completely different background, and then build a relationship on that,” recalls Powers.

Powers found the chance to make a positive impact on the lives of others to be the most rewarding part of his time in Würzburg: “It was clear through their smiles and willingness to talk that these people who have experienced so much difficulty and so many obstacles were happy to have conversations with new people. Some of them described how hard it is for them to talk outside of their community in the housing complex, because of language barriers and prejudices. Therefore, it was awesome to be able to offer comfort to these people by just being there.”