With more humans holding refugee status than any other time in history, more of the global community have found ways to create empathy and find opportunities to connect with those refugees in need.
This year, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO), a group of thousands of Jewish teens all over the world, selected Denver as the location for their annual international conference. This spring, about 40 out of the 3,000 youth selected to come to the University of Denver to experience an afternoon focused on refugees in this city.
One activity the youth participated in was a border crossing simulation, a chance for the teens to catch a glimpse of what it is like to not speak a language in the midst of survival.
This simulation was led by Dr. Cheri Young of the Fritz Knoebel Hospitality Management School, as well as Anthony Cherwinski, Faculty Champion in the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning’s Community Engaged (CE) Fellows program. Adrielle Knight, the CE refugee-focused Fellow, assisted with the program set-up and volunteer recruitment to make the simulation possible.
With volunteers acting as border officials, detention officers, and security officers, the youth entered the simulation excited for a new experience. Quickly, the enthusiasm waned as the officials spoke an entirely different language than English. The youth were given different identities and tasked to find role-play family members separated in the group. The teen participants were to fill out an application to cross the border, only to be rejected multiple times and thrown into detention at least once during the simulation. Initially smiling faces turned haggard in the mere 20 minute exercise, as the youth were yelled at in a foreign language, increasingly becoming confused and frustrated.
As the simulation came to an end, gradually more participants were approved to cross the border where they were welcomed with a smile and congratulatory remarks in English with candy as a reward. The once exuberant teens seemed exhausted and relieved that the stressful situation was now over.
After the simulation, the group debriefed and shared their experiences. Many commented how they were incredibly frustrated at not understanding the language, and not knowing why their applications were rejected or why they were not given any reason for being thrown into detention. They acknowledged this simple simulation was nowhere near reality, but it gave them just a small glimpse into the real struggle that refugees and asylee-seekers face everyday all over the world.
Adrielle Knight is the 2018-2019 CCESL refugee-focused CE Fellow and student at the Graduate School of Social Work, completing her MSW degree in June 2019. Adrielle interns as a school therapist for the refugee and immigrant community at Place Bridge Academy, serving elementary and middle-school aged students. Outside of her role at DU, Adrielle serves on the board of WorldDenver, an organization that cultivates citizen diplomacy in partnership with the State Department, as well as serves on the board of Save Our Youth, a youth mentorship organization. After graduation, Adrielle will work with refugees overseas implementing trauma-informed play therapy interventions for children and youth. Adrielle can be contacted through her LinkedIn profile.