College students to learn about refugee resettlement during Germany trip

By Bob Ashenmacher

Students from three area colleges will get an up-close experience with refugee resettlement and gain a fresh global perspective during a trip to Germany this spring.

Seventeen students from The College of St. Scholastica, the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the University of Minnesota-Duluth will take a two-week trip to Germany later this month. They’ll leave on May 21, and return on June 2.

The trip leader is Connie Gunderson, associate professor of social work at St. Scholastica. She will be assisted by Michelle Robertson, assistant social work professor; Karen Rosenflanz, associate professor of Global Cultural & Language Studies at St. Scholastica; and Lynn Goerdt, associate professor of social work at UWS. Goerdt and other UWS staff members organized the logistics and financial aspects of the trip, including writing and receiving a grant to defer student costs for the program.

“We wanted to focus on a human rights perspective; a European perspective on the refugee situation,” said Gunderson, who lived and taught in Germany for 23 years and has extensive contacts there. “How do we look at the challenges and opportunities facing communities and refugees that are getting to know each other and living with each other?”

The trip is a follow-up to a visit to Duluth last fall from two of Gunderson’s German contacts who are active in building an assistance network for refugees in their community of Schwerin, Germany. They came to learn about social work practices in the United States, and share their own experiences.

The itinerary, developed by Gunderson, will include visits to Berlin and the Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin (university), named for a major pioneer of social work in Germany. Other stops will include Bremen and Oldenburg. A trip to Schwerin will feature meetings with the mayor, community members, and refugees.

Gunderson said a recurring theme for the trip will be St. Scholastica’s Benedictine values.

“It’s a wonderful fit of how we practice radical hospitality and a sense of community and respect, a love of learning about cultures and each other,” Gunderson said. “I think it’s so important that the students are getting an international perspective on how people approach refugees, people who are different and who are in need.”

The American students will also have a chance to interact with their German counterparts. A visit to the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven will be a highlight, Gunderson said, helping the students make a connection between refugee resettlement throughout history all the way up to the Syrian refugees of today.

“What we’re wanting to do is also grasp a historical perspective,” Gunderson said.