El gobierno federal suizo invierte millones de dólares cada año en la asimilación de refugiados y solicitantes de asilo en su país. No sólo se centra en ayudarles a incorporarse al mercado laboral, sino también en las necesidades educativas y psicológicas de los inmigrantes. Su compromiso con la integración intercultural y la lucha contra la exclusión ha dado lugar a un proyecto único en el que tuve el honor de participar recientemente. Se trata de una iniciativa que, en mi opinión, tiene el potencial de forjar un cambio poderoso en la sociedad. Swiss universities y se llama el programa Horizon Académique.
El programa es una idea original de las universidades suizas: University of Zurich (UZH) y la University of Geneva (UNIGE). Curiosamente, el cantón (provincia) de Ginebra ha abierto realmente el camino con este tipo de iniciativas y es de esperar que otros países de Europa sigan su ejemplo. Y fue el Graduate Institute of Geneva quien me invitó a impartir formación y prestar apoyo a esta iniciativa a principios de septiembre. El Graduate Institute es uno de los patrocinadores del programa paraguas Uni4Refugees: Broadening Diversity in Higher Education Institutions y colabora estrechamente con la Universidad de Ginebra (UNIGE) en el proyecto. Esta iniciativa de la comunidad universitaria pretende facilitar la integración de los refugiados y repatriados en el ámbito de la enseñanza superior suiza..
Horizon Académique is a pioneering Swiss initiative that is helping international students’ adapt to their new schools
Various students from the University of Geneva chose to participate in the program by becoming mentors to refugees or returnees. The preparatory program aims to facilitate the academic and professional integration of the recent arrivals into their new home. The idea is to give them as much help as possible in settling into a new country and culture. And at the same time their mentors got a chance to expand their horizons and learn more about themselves.
A Stranger In A Strange Land
I facilitated the opening of the program, helping to train the mentors and give workshops to both sets of students. The theme of the week was ‘a stranger in a strange land’ and I endeavoured to help the groups who were not only diverse in culture but also in age, to break down potential barriers that may have existed between them. Through a series of team-building games and thought-provoking questions, I encouraged them to dig down deep into their own long-held perceptions about what it is to be a refugee or someone from a different culture.
It was really interesting to “dive into” our own habits and culture and the other participants helped me realize many aspects of my own cultural personality. As a mentor, I felt surprised to see how fast a relationship was built between us.”
What hit me as the week progressed was how enthusiasm was sparked on both sides and the discoveries – both internal and external – were made. A common response at the end of the program was just how eye-opening the sessions had been. As a result, the participants had become more aware of their own culture as well as those of others. And the students especially valued the empathy exercises. All in all, it was an incredibly empowering experience to see how we had created a bond and a new understanding between these individuals – who, I hope, no longer felt like a stranger in a strange land.
And I strongly believe that other higher education institutions would benefit from similar programs. Facilitating a connection between local students and those who have travelled from abroad to study at universities would increase levels of diversity and inclusion – not only within educational institutions but within the wider society as a whole. And isn’t that something we all aspire to? Shouldn’t we be building bridges instead of constructing barriers? So if you think your higher educational institution would benefit from a program like this – or already has a similar program which maybe needs a new focus – then please reach out to me for more information. Let me take you and your students on a journey of self-discovery.