Journey from Germany to Last Frontier – and the Big Easy: A Reflection on Social Change

Sometimes life takes us to places we never expected to go and the insights we gain along the way make us who we are. I was born and raised in Munich, Germany, a vibrant city in the south of Germany, only six hours from the Italian border and eight hours from Paris.

In 2011, I decided to start my journey abroad as a freshman at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, taking advantage of the scholarship opportunities I received as an international college athlete. When I left Germany about four years ago, I remember feeling a sense of trust in government and social justice in general. Even though Germany has a dark spot in its history, people have mostly overcome the trauma of tyranny and division. Ever since the reunion of Germany in 1989, the political and social climate has been fairly stable, not to mention that Germany elected its first female chancellor in 2005.

This sense of trust in social justice gradually faded as I learned more about the social challenges in America. Coming to an HBCU in 2012 gave me an uncensored insight into how people feel about being unheard, mistreated and discriminated against. With the acts of violence against African American men, I came to understand that fear is one of the main reasons why people turn against each other. It is fear of the unknown – the other – that makes people disregard the basic rules of our society that are supposed to ensure our peace.

Fear as a catalyst of discrimination and violence is not only an American phenomenon. In 2015, the political crisis in the Middle East caused over a million refugees to go to Germany in hopes of finding a safe place for their families. While countries such as Hungary, Poland or Croatia closed their borders to refugees completely, Germany maintained its open-door policy. The fear of terrorism and its constant presence in the media caused many European governments to deny help to thousands of refugees.

Even though the majority of Germans have been very welcoming towards foreigners, some far-right groups have attempted to create a sense of fear among the German population. It is undeniable that terrorism is a serious threat nowadays, but far-right groups such as Pegida base their simplified propaganda on stereotypes and generalizations that disregard human rights. Migration has always been part of our world history, but it has now reached extreme dimensions because of modern technologies and quicker means of transportation. Migration challenges us to open our borders and become educated about the people we are sharing our countries with. Recent dynamics have shown that northern, developed countries are becoming more multi-cultural, while the political and economic climate in countries such as Syria becoming unbearable. Social change resulting from the mix of cultures is challenging us to overcome our fear of “the other”.

If we let fear dictate our thoughts and actions, whether in relationships or politics, people are treated unfairly in the process. It is essential, especially for college students, who are the future leaders of this world, to become educated citizens who are able to differentiate political safety precautions from hateful propaganda.In times where different nations and cultures are forced to learn how to live together in peace, it is important to understand and value the differences in people. Those who use fear and labeling stereotypes as an excuse for mistreatment will only further the division between people.

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