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Students get glimpse into refugees’ journey during simulation event

Students listen to language instructors during the World Relief Refugee Simulation in the Montview Alumni Ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 20. (Photos by Chase Gyles)

Liberty University’s Global Focus Week kicked off an exciting schedule of interactive events Monday evening with the first of six refugee simulation experiences designed to open students’ eyes to the difficulties that refugees endure around the world.

Sessions were held three times a day, Monday through Wednesday, in the Montview Alumni Ballroom and were led by World Relief Refugee Simulation Coordinator Richard Mandeville, who began each experience by outlining the difficulties that refugees go through in camps overseas.

Participants were divided into small groups representing refugee families and were then given five minutes to memorize a script (the family’s unique story) before they traveled through three stations designed to simulate the process that a refugee may go through as they prepare to enter a new country: language learning, medical history, and proving credentials to an immigration officer. Staff acting as workers at a refugee camp interrogated the families about their credentials and medical history and taught them basic words for multiple languages. After completing the course, the evening ended with a debriefing session where students were given the opportunity to share how the event affected them.

“I just felt absolutely dehumanized,” said sophomore Sanjay Jacob. “I just couldn’t imagine what it would have been like for someone who doesn’t even know the English language that well and to then get interrogated and yelled at. I don’t know what I would do.”

Jacob said he typically works well under pressure but felt helpless when put in the refugee simulation.

“They act like you are just a number,” he said. “The nurse said she goes through over 200 people a day and she said that people are just one family or one number to them.”

Workers acting as medical staff walked the refugee families through their physicals and drilled them on their medical history.

Jacob said his parents immigrated to the U.S. from India before he was born.

“After this event I realize that I can now relate a little better to my parents, which means so much to me,” he said.

Rwanda native and graduate student Esther Cyubahiro is thankful for the university’s commitment to global awareness.

“Personally, I never understood how much it meant until I got to see the impact that it has had on my life,” she said. “Global Focus Week is a great opportunity for students to expand their minds and get to hear other students talk about the experience that they’ve had in this exposure to what refugees go through.”

Liberty’s Global Focus Week, held each semester, is hosted by LU Serve, part of the Office of Spiritual Development, and is aimed at raising international awareness among students, faculty, and staff. Throughout the week, students are given the opportunity to connect one-on-one with representatives from global organizations around the world, experience a variety of cultures, and participate in interactive events.

“Global Focus Week is an opportunity for students to truly discover how they can leverage their career, passions, and talents in order to fulfill the Great Commission,” LU Serve Director Steven Gillum said. “Students become challenged in their perspectives and exposed to different worldviews through holistic content, cultural experiences, and the development opportunities at LU Serve.”

World Relief Refugee Simulation Coordinator Richard Mandeville leads a session.

The week also showcased lectures on “Understanding the Global Refugee Crisis,” “Navigating Cultural Meals,” and “Navigating Your Story and Faith Abroad,” a World Food Market dinner at The Food Court at Reber-Thomas, and a global music concert on the Commons Lawn.

“If I went to any other school, I think people would mention the importance of global focus, but at Liberty they do these hands-on events where you actually feel it … to actually feel what it is like makes you definitely have more empathy,” Jacob said. “I love this school, and I love what Liberty is doing to make sure that students are culturally aware.”