Working Group on Refugees, Europe, and Service Learning

Now in its fourth year, WRESL – the Working Group on Refugees, Europe, and Service Learning – provides an informal space in which some of the Center for European Studies’ undergraduates, Excel EURO-TAM students, can discuss the circumstances of refugees in Europe and the US. This group actively seeks out opportunities to learn about the immigrant experience on both sides of the Atlantic and to engage with those involved in integration processes. Thus far, we have focused attention on the efforts of refugee assistance programs (Church World Service), community partnerships (Transplanting Traditions), student volunteer tutors, as well as international photographers and film makers. As the name suggests, we are interested in wrestling with the challenges and successes of migrants and the ways in which non-migrants contribute to the immigrant experience.


Recent WRESL Event: Screening: The Fields of Immokalee

At noon on February 7th, we screened a Bertelsmann-Foundation film in the GEC.

“The Fields of Immokalee” is part one of three-chapter film Swing State Florida, directed by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Samuel George. The documentary film mixes intimate portraits with expert commentary to give a vision of Florida in the run-up to the 2020 election. The challenges documented in the film present struggles replicated in swing states across the country. Swing State Florida takes the viewer on a journey through three critical Florida communities: migrant agricultural workers in Immokalee, the historically African-American Liberty City area of Miami, and the Hurricane-stricken panhandle. In each place, we hear from people facing challenges from climate change and migration, to political and economic marginalization.

This screening of “The Fields of Immokalee” was free and open to the public. The event was co-sponsored by WRESL, the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Exodus Institute.

The Bertelsmann Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC with a transatlantic perspective on global challenges. The Exodus Institute is a nonprofit in Washington, DC with a key aim of mobilizing the private and international sectors to address the forced migration crisis.

“The Fields of Immokalee,” recently received The Award of Excellence from the Impact Docs Awards.


Samuel George

Samuel George uses a multi-media approach to investigate critical issues in global economics, with a special focus on emerging markets. His signature video series, The Crossroads, combines expert interviews, graphics, and on-the-ground conversations and analysis to bring viewers inside cutting-edge moments in the global political economy. He also produces animated videos and interviews that highlight key findings in Bertelsmann Foundation and Bertelsmann Stiftung studies. Samuel initially joined the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2012 as a Latin America specialist working with the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Global Economic Dynamics project. Highlights of this work include the introduction of the “Pacific Pumas” concept, which relates to the advancements and opportunities of key countries in Latin America, as well investigations into Brazil’s economic malaise, Argentina’s debt crisis and Caribbean growth strategies. His studies on international economics have been cited in the Financial Times, the Economist and the Washington Post, and he continues to work closely with the Global Economic Dynamics project. Samuel is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and holds a master’s degree in international economics from Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington.

Priscilla Layne

Priscilla Layne is Associate Professor of German and Adjunct Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at UNC-CH. She is also affiliated with the Global Cinema Studies Program. She has guest lectured at Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen and at Universität Bremen. Layne focuses on sci-fi, cinema, and Black culture in Germany and Europe. Her first book, White Rebels in Black: German Appropriation of Black Popular Culture, was published in 2018 by the University of Michigan Press. She is also the co-editor of the volume Rebellion and Revolution: Defiance in German Language, History and Art (2008). She is working on a monograph, Out of this World: Afro-German Afrofuturism. She held a Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin in fall 2018. She has published articles on German film, literature, translation and music in German Studies Review, the Women in German Yearbook and Colloquia Germanica.

Cameren Lofton

Cameren Lofton is currently a Senior from Georgia double majoring in Political Science and Contemporary European Studies. On campus, she is involved in WRESL (Working Group for Refugees, Europe, and Service-Learning), The Bridge online magazine, and the Black Arts Theatre Company. She has also recently started a position as Program Assistant for a partnership between the Center for European Studies and The Exodus Institute, a non-profit in DC with a focus on addressing the crisis of forced migration. After graduation, Cameren plans to take 2 gap years to work before returning to graduate school to earn her Ph.D. in Political Science and eventually become a professor.

Emily Rodriguez

Emily Rodriguez joined the Bertelsmann Foundation in July 2018. As director of communications, she shares the findings of BFNA’s projects with the public and connects the Foundation’s experts with journalists and policymakers. Emily came to Bertelsmann after three years with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), where she was senior government relations and communications manager, and press lead on election missions across the globe. Prior, based out of Philadelphia, she worked in domestic politics, strategic communications, and organized labor for almost a decade. Fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian (and working on German and Turkish), the Pennsylvania native’s love for language and culture began in Venezuela. She holds a master’s degree in international development from Sciences Po Paris and a bachelor’s degree from American University’s School of International Service. Emily is a political partner with the Truman National Security Project.

October 2019 Workshop – Chris and Heval

WRESL members were recently invited to take part in a workshop focused on reconciling differing opinions. The discussion took place on Saturday, October 5, 2019 and featured Heval Kelli and Chris Buckley. Both men were born in 1983 and now live in Clarkston, Georgia. Heval fled Syria with his family as a child. When he got to the US, he worked as a dishwasher and is now a cardiologist. Chris is a US military veteran, and former KKK member. The two men have become friends and now speak with communities about overcoming hate. There is a documentary film being made about the two men: To the right, Heval and Chris speak with staff, students and faculty during their visit to UNC.
Two men sit at a cafe table and talk with those around them.
The workshop was part of the  “Countering Hate” initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences. Two students from WRESL attended this event.

First-year student, Tracy Ridley, who has recently joined WRESL, attended this event and provided the following response:

Heval and Chris coming to Carolina was a delight. Both of their stories alone were inspirational and together were indescribably enriching. The most valuable lesson I took from their visit was to not go into a conversation with the goal of changing someone’s mind but simply listen and attempt to understand the other’s perspective. With refugees and integration being one of my main interests, their unique story has shown me how easily I can incite change, whether it be locally or internationally. Their story touched me and will forever be in my mind when I encounter new, divergent personalities and pursue my future career.


Sarah Hutchison, TAM Associate Director and WRESL Facilitator, wrote this reflection:

Chris and Heval told their life stories in alternating segments which they called “acts.” Heval described the rather negative experience he had as a Syrian refugee relocated to a small mountain town in Germany. Though no Germans reached out to welcome him while there, he did encounter elderly American church members who knocked on his family’s door as soon as they arrived in Georgia. These Americans offered Heval food and clothing. Heval made a point to explain that he owes his own professional success to the help he received from his American community. He now wants to “give back” and serve his community as a doctor of preventative medicine. He also sees himself as someone who engages in outreach and makes the first gesture to people like Chris who are angry with and fearful of Muslim immigrants.


Heval noted that the first time he met Chris in person, he was struck by his poor living conditions. Heval explained that Chris’ home and neighborhood were worse than the refugee housing he had experienced. He says that he reminds people now that the US has a population of “rural refugees” – native-born Americans who are living in destitution.


I was particularly interested in these parts of the discussion – I would like to know more about how Heval’s refugee experience differed in Germany and the US. I’d also like to know how Chris feels as a US citizen and war veteran when he hears himself referred to as a “rural refugee.”

Could this term expand our understanding of the word refugee?

One often perceives an anti-immigration refrain – why should our country accept refugees and help them when there are so many Americans who need help. Heval’s narrative provides an interesting reversal as he is a refugee who received assistance and who now is in a position to provide aid to others. His focus lands on US nationals in distress.


WRESL had its first fall 2019 meeting on Sept. 20th

We heard from Professor Christiane Lemke of the University of Hannover in Germany and from one of our WRESL members, Cameren Lofton, about a refugee theater project they worked on this summer. Please read more about Cameren’s summer experience below.


This text was written by Cameren Lofton, a UNC Senior who has been a part of WRESL for several years.

Five actors sit in a circle around another actor.

Over the summer, I spent six weeks in Hannover, Germany doing independent research on refugee and integration politics. My research primarily focused on a play that was being funded by the city of Hannover as an integration project. The play, Die Insel (The Island), was largely comprised of refugees from the Middle East and migrants from Eastern Europe. It opens with a plane crash on a remote island. With no way of knowing if/when help is on the way, the people on the island must form their own society and discuss the concepts of peace, freedom, and democracy. This play differed from most integration projects, which usually take place in the classroom. Instead, the participants were encouraged to embrace their individuality and took active roles in the conception and production of the play; they wrote the script for the play together and helped with setup. All of them reported that their German skills and knowledge of the political concepts of democracy and civilization improved from their experience with Die Insel. In addition, three of the people in the play were native German citizens, which is important for a two-sided integration process. Structuring an integration project in this nontraditional way gives refugees and migrants more agency in the process of learning a new language and culture.

A group of actors on stage.

My trip in Germany ended with a conference on other creative integration projects in Hannover.  At this conference, I also had the opportunity to present on the history of Black theatre in the US and its connection with politics. My presentation emphasized the role that the arts can play in politics and challenged the notion that the arts belong in the private sphere and have no place in the political sphere. During the conference, I learned more about integration in Hannover from both the logistic and community perspective. The conference covered integration projects that used soccer, painting, film, and other creative and artistic methods as alternatives to the classroom-style. All of them found great success with their methods. Furthermore, they found that the refugees and migrants participating were more engaged and at times did not realize that they were learning. These projects tend to emphasize the agency of the refugee or migrant while also encouraging a two-sided learning process in which the migrants/refugees and people from the native country are getting to know each other instead of the refugee or migrant having to do all of the learning with no effort from people native to the country. For governments that are looking to approach the issue of integration in a progressive way, integration projects utilizing creative methods could be an efficient alternative to the traditional language and culture classes.



Flyer for the lecture on immigration integration in the transatlantic context.

On Friday, March 1st, 2019 WRESL members hosted a wonderful lecture and dinner discussion event in the GEC!

Susanne Dieper, Director of Programs and Grants at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., joined us to discuss the AICGS project called “Integration: Made in Germany.” The AICGS website has more details about this project. Round-table discussions followed the talk. Discussion facilitators did a marvelous job keeping conversations going relevant to the following topics:

US-German Migration Politics, Migration Lessons Learned Across Nations, The Ethics and Morality of Migration, Activism and Volunteering related to Migration, Korean Guest Workers in Germany, The Economics of Migration Policy, Education and Migration, Migration in Historical Perspective, Immigration in Geographic Perspective, and Multilateral Organizations and Immigration. Many thanks to the professors and graduate students who served as discussion facilitators.

People sitting down at tables and eating in the atrium of the Global Education Center.

A round table with a sign that says activism and volunteering related to migration.

Two students prepare for an event outside the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the Fedex Global Education Center.

Three women sit in the front row of the auditorium holding paper and pens and smiling at the camera.

People eat, drink and talk around a table.

Students pose in the atrium of the Global Education Center.

People eat, drink and talk around a table.

Two women sit in the front row of an auditorium and smile at the camera.



WRESL Fellows

The text in the tooltip says: Allison is a second-year student in the EURO-TAM excel program at Carolina. She is also pursuing a minor in the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) Program, and plans to apply to the Kenan-Flagler Business School in the summer of 2019. Beginning with her tenure at UNC this fall, Allison has begun to actively work with the WRESL program and is looking forward to continuing in this capacity throughout the rest of this year and into the future.

The text in the tooltip says: Desiree Lockhart is a first-year Honors student from Maryland studying Public Policy. Growing up in an extremely diverse area with a high immigrant population led her to have a passion for foreign affairs and serve under-represented communities.

The text in the tooltip says: Cameren is currently a Senior from Georgia double majoring in Political Science and Contemporary European Studies. She joined the WRESL group because of her interest in migration and refugee politics and, through this group, hopes to educate both herself and others on the various difficulties refugees face all over the world. After graduation, she plans to go to graduate school for her PhD in Political Science and eventually become a professor.

Headshot of Xander. Tooltip text says Xander is a first year student from Jacksonville, Florida majoring in Contemporary Studies and Global Studies. He became apart of WRESL because of his interest in refugees and immigration politics and hopes to better educate himself and others on this topic.

Tooltip text says Hello! My name is Tracy Ridley, and I am a first-year student in the EURO-TAM excel program at Carolina. I am double-majoring in Contemporary European Studies and Political Science, with a minor in German. I joined WRESL my first semester at Carolina because of my deep interest in the refugee crisis in Europe and the struggles facing thousands of people across the continent. In the future, I hope to use my education, skills, and background to help those in need and make my impact on as many people as possible worldwide.

Headshot of Lizzie. Tooltip text says Lizzie Russler is a senior from Charleston, South Carolina studying Contemporary European Studies and Environmental Sustainability. With experience in the non-profit, private and public spheres, Lizzie is passionate about finding cross-sectoral solutions to our world's most pressing challenges, including the climate crisis and associated migration, migrant integration, and human rights abuses.

The tooltip text reads: Hello! My name is Kellan Robinson and I am a senior from Cincinnati double majoring in Contemporary European Studies and Global Studies (focus on Politics in Africa). After the TAM Program, I plan to go to law school. My end goal is to be a world leader who ignites and supports social change and humanitarianism.

Blog Posts

TAM Student Volunteering

After returning to UNC during the peak of the Refugee Crisis, Sam Barber got involved as a volunteer in the refugee community in Chapel Hill, via student organization INJAZ.
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Refugees in Europe and Berlin

My German colleague wanted to enable refugees to join GeTMA – the German-Turkish Master’s Program Humboldt has run in conjunction with The Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara.
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A European Partner and Refugees

Center colleague Christian Wilhelm, from Humboldt University in Berlin, spoke with WRESL about creating a path for refugees in Germany to enroll in Humboldt’s German-Turkish Master’s Program. One student shared her reflection.
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Volunteering with Refugees Overseas

The Center for European Studies hosted a panel discussion focused on undergraduates who will undertake or have engaged in volunteer work with refugees overseas.
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Students Visit Refugee Exhibition

A small group of Excel @ Carolina students who are part of our EURO-TAM Program recently went to The Friday Center to see a multimedia art exhibition called REFUGEE. The students shared their impressions.
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