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Integration Starts with Getting to Know Each Other

Students at Freie Universität and refugees visited the Long Night of Science together

Jul 06, 2016

The group greeting: The thumb and index finger of the right hand formed an L, while the outstretched thumb of the left hand stands for an I: Let’s Integrate. Abdul is in front, wearing a plaid shirt, Abdullah is directly behind him.

The group greeting: The thumb and index finger of the right hand formed an L, while the outstretched thumb of the left hand stands for an I: Let’s Integrate. Abdul is in front, wearing a plaid shirt, Abdullah is directly behind him.
Image Credit: Marina Kosmalla

Pegah Hassanpour tells Abdul Ezzalden what the group is supposed to do for a hand-on activity in the university’s walk-in clinic for psychotherapy, diagnostics, and well-being. They had to ...

Pegah Hassanpour tells Abdul Ezzalden what the group is supposed to do for a hand-on activity in the university’s walk-in clinic for psychotherapy, diagnostics, and well-being. They had to ...
Image Credit: Marina Kosmalla

... work together to turn a blanket around that they were all standing on, without letting anyone fall down.

... work together to turn a blanket around that they were all standing on, without letting anyone fall down.
Image Credit: Marina Kosmalla

Jonathan Fox with the founders of Let’s integrate!:  Lasse Landt, Khaled Alaswad, Paul Spieker, Cindy Spieker, Talal Maskineh (from left to right).

Jonathan Fox with the founders of Let’s integrate!: Lasse Landt, Khaled Alaswad, Paul Spieker, Cindy Spieker, Talal Maskineh (from left to right).
Image Credit: Marina Kosmalla

Around 20 students and refugees met on a “blind date” to tour the Long Night of Science together. In small groups, they explored the Dahlem campus, participated in hands-on experiments, listened to concerts of various types of music, and learned more about each other's cultures. The activity was organized by Jonathan Fox, a junior professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, and the "Let’s integrate!" platform, which was founded by alumni of Freie Universität.

"German or English?" was the first question the students asked Abdul and Abdullah. "German is fine," the two refugees answered and surprised the German students with their good German skills. The young people had met for the first time five minutes ago, but with the casual atmosphere and the lively discussions, it seemed as though they had known each other for quite a while.

Abdullah Alsadik is 25 and has been living in Germany for ten months. He studied computer science at the University of Technology in Baghdad, Iraq, and is currently looking for work – as a computer scientist, but also as a cook or in a repair service for refrigerators and air conditioners. Abdulwahhab Ezzalden – Abdul for short – is 18 and has been living here for eight months. He would like to study computer science. With these two in the group, we had to stop at the Institute for Computer Science!

Jonathan Fox, a junior professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies. had the idea that students at Freie Universität and refugees could visit the Long Night of Science together. He had heard about the Let’s integrate! platform through friends, so he contacted the organizers and set up a meeting. ´The coordinators of the Welcome to Freie Universität Berlin Program got free tickets for all the participants through the organizer of the open house event, con gressa.

Bringing People Together

"Let’s integrate!" is a website that facilitates meetings between refugees and Berliners. "The idea behind it is to bring people and cultures together to reduce tension and create greater understanding for the other culture," says Paul Spieker, one of the founders and an alumnus of Freie Universität. "We wanted to create a platform where refugees and locals could meet easily and without further obligation to each other because the first step for integration is to get to know each other." The intention is for the refugees and local Berliners to meet at eye level. The main goal is to meet and get to know each other, not to help refugees. There are enough other platforms for that.

Three alumni of Freie Universität – Lasse Landt, Paul Spieker, and Cindy Spieker – founded Let’s integrate! at the end of 2015 in conjunction with the Syrian refugees Khaled Alaswad and Talal Maskineh. "These days everyone is talking about refugees, but hardly anyone talks to them," says Lasse Landt. "We wanted to change that." Since May 1, 2016, it has been possible to arrange meetings through the website. To date, over 200 contacts have come about this way.

Watching Soccer with Friends

In addition to setting up the usual meetings, the website also promotes special activities such as the Long Night of Science or the European Championship in Soccer. One of the slogans currently on the website is "Invite a refugee to watch soccer with your friends!" Lasse Landt points out that an important criterion for the group is that the meetings are free of charge for both parties. That is why they are looking for sponsors who can arrange for free tickets, like Jonathan Fox did.

Pegah Hassanpour said she would be interested in participating in a meeting through the Let’s integrate! platform. She is a 22-year old student in the bachelor's degree program at the John F. Kennedy Institute and helped Jonathan Fox spread the news about visiting the Long Night of Science together. She also walked around the campus with one of the groups, and later said, "Abdul and Abdullah were both very nice and open. I had a nice time visiting the Long Night of Science with them, and I learned a lot about them and their culture." While they were visiting an exhibition at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute on "500 Years of German Purity Law" that pertained to technicalities in the production of food and beverages in Germany, the two described how they get through the days while fasting during Ramadan.

It was the first time that Pegah Hassanpour attended the annual open house event of the Long Night of Science, and she acknowledged that she and her friends had never been inside most of the institutes they visited that night. She grinned, saying it was fun, even though most of the activities were designed more for children. In any regard, both the refugees and the students experienced many new things that evening.