German Intern Lana Baeumlisberger reflects on her work with refugees

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lana Baeumlisberger completed an internship with the International Rescue Committee through German studies in the spring of 2016.

"My experience with the German Department at the University of Arizona has been one that I will always remember. I can confidently say changing my original major to German was the best decision I have ever made in my life. My professors are, without a doubt, the very best in their respective fields. I could not ask for a better learning environment. But I had never been more proud of our Department than when I signed up to be an Intern at the International Rescue Committee. However small, I feel I made a difference through the internship program the German Department offers. I first learned about refugees through German 302 (German Conversations) and a few other German classes. We had watched German news channels about the Syrian Refugee Crisis happening at the moment. I remember the statistics, the images of families fleeing, and pictures of Angela Merkel glued to pieces of cardboard. 

Throughout the semester, I was able to use my experience learning German to help my clients learn English. I did not have a translator, nor do I speak Kinyarwanda or Swahili (we’re still working on it). We worked on pronunciation, vocabulary, reading comprehension, math, and science. I was asked on multiple occasions to also help with everyday problems. Activities that most people take for granted, like going to the grocery store, even how to seek legal help. I attended several conferences with Dr. Warner, and Dr. Gramling. Conferences that helped me find resources and techniques to improve upon my newly formed teaching skills. I was also introduced to other refugee organizations like Owl and Panther. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most wonderful scholars in the world.

But what does the term ‘refugee’ really mean? Dina, a teenager whom I taught during the semester, once asked me why I had used that word. The IRC refers to them as clients, and I had innocently misspoken. A lexicographer would have said something like a refugee is, “A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” But that isn’t all they are. If I am speaking honestly, they are no different than veterans returning home from war. They suffer from survivor’s guilt, shame, betrayal, PTSD and other unimaginable traumas. All of them moral wounds that require healing. Again, not necessarily the only attributes that described Dina. She is in many ways a strong, independent young woman. Her entire family encompassed similar traits like generosity, pride, trust, honesty, and ambition. The people I met quickly became more than just a statistic to me. They are a part of my family, and I lovingly refer to them as my refugee family. 

I am most grateful to the German department for not only allowing me to have this experience, but also for their understanding. I am also very grateful to everyone who donated clothing and other items to the IRC, and I hope we can continue to donate through the department." If you are interested in making a donation or in becoming an intern through German, please contact Dr. Jacobs.