MISSOULA – Each morning, around 400 Syrian refugees arrive in Berlin on a train, hoping to find better lives than their war-torn homeland can provide. This spring, 18 University of Montana students will arrive in the German capital to tell their stories and document one of the biggest international news stories of the past year.
Under the guidance of Henriette Lowisch, an international journalist from Berlin who teaches at UM’s School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, UM journalism school dean, and Shane McMillan, a 2010 UM alumnus who’s now a photojournalist based in Berlin, the students will spend May 24 through June 14 interviewing refugees to produce stories in various media formats.
The idea for the trip emerged during Lowisch’s international reporting course last spring. At the end of the semester, she essentially gave her students half an hour to “reinvent” the class, and they overwhelming recommended that it involve practicing journalism in an international locale.
“Then, over the summer, the refugee crisis started accelerating,” Lowisch said. “The house I live in when I’m in Berlin over the summers actually has a guest apartment that has been made available to refugees. I come home and there’s a refugee living there, and it becomes real. The interest of the students in going to Berlin, and news happening in front of my eyes, those combined gave us the inspiration to create this study abroad program.”
The majority of the students who will travel to Berlin are enrolled in the journalism school, but others hail from majors such as German and political science. One student, a German major with a minor in computer science, hopes to build a smartphone app refugees can use to reconnect with family members and navigate the city.
“To me, this is much more fun and exciting to do this with University of Montana students,” Lowisch said. “Montana students have always struck me as more open-minded than students in big cosmopolitan centers. They actually relate to people in their stories. They can relate to refugees, and they can also relate to Germans who might feel threatened by the refugee movement.”
The students are fundraising for the program, which they expect to cost a total of $33,700. For more information on how to support the project, email Lowisch at firstname.lastname@example.org.