“During the final month of March I was fortunate to travel from Santarem, Portugal, where I have been teaching English, Communication, and Multimedia to second year college students though the Fulbright Program all the way to Berlin, Germany, for their 2017 Fulbright Seminar. This seminar was the largest to date, with over 550 participants from various other Fulbright partnered countries throughout Europe. This conference was set up as a giant networking and project pitching event. It was extremely participant driven, with everyone taking on leadership roles to contribute to the community vibe of the conference. Each day we had a plethora of lectures from former and current Fulbright researchers, teaching assistants, and scholars, and it was breathtaking to get an inside view as to how people from all over America are currently impacting Europe as cultural ambassadors.

My main role within this seminar was hosting a lecture on the “Rhetoric of the Refugee Crisis.” I was partnered up with another Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Andorra, and together we tackled this important topic with a crowd of eager listeners. Being an English major with a focus on rhetoric and composition, it was enjoyable sharing how articulation is key to understanding and addressing community concerns. Language is a large part cultural exchange, and we must use correct language to others outside of our cultural circle.  We explained how even calling it a “Refugee Crisis” is limiting and jarring, as it insinuates there is a division between “refugees” and “people.” It is a privilege to be on the side of humanity helping the crisis versus being in the trenches ourselves. Due to this, we established it is best to label it a “Humanitarian Crisis” as this puts responsibility on everyone to lend a hand in making the world a safer place for all its inhabitants. However, even in creating this label, it causes us to be further aware of the danger of labels themselves.

Having spoken to some refugees in Europe from Syria and Yugoslavia, at times this term isn’t one they appreciate, or even represent, and it feels forced upon them. They feel they are people in a horrible situation, but the label refugee makes them feel as if they stand out in a crowd, when they’ve only ever wanted to blend in peacefully. Contrarily, other refugees say it is important for others to know they are indeed refugees as the label for them stands for their struggle, and it is a way for others to know they are hurting and need assistance. Our group also broke down the labels of “expat” and “immigrant”, with the former typically being given to white people and “refugee” being for “the others” which is unfair. Furthermore, when does one stop being an “immigrant” and can an “expat” and a “refugee” also be deemed an “immigrant”? One refugee stated she felt like she shed her labels when she had children in the country she “moved to” because she finally set down roots. We concluded that there is no correct answer, but regarding rhetoric, if people are aware of the terminology they are using and considerate for those in which they are labeling, it is a step in the right direction.

It was a pleasure being able to speak of such a global issue and to be surrounded by a group of people willing to share stories of how they, too, are dealing with the crisis and what efforts they have taken to help lend a hand to humanity. In sharing my opinion on the matter, I reminded the group that America should not just be “The land of the free and the home of the brave” but the world should put on that ideal as well. I ended the lecture reminding everyone that we are not defined by the border we were born into, but rather the world should be one cohesive border, and humanity is really aiming to always help our neighbors. In spirit of Gandhi, “We need to be the change we wish to see in this world.”

I was also lucky enough to share my Fulbright project, “Pessoas of Portugal” with a crowd full of scholars. I showed them how I took my favorite project back in America, “Humans of New York” and gave it a Portuguese spin to get to know my community, but to also share my community back home in America. Everyone has a story, and I think it is important for everyone to take the time to respect and appreciate our differences while also understanding that as humans, we are often more alike than dissimilar despite our geographic location. Many of the other Fulbrighters gave me positive feedback and even asked for my assistance on starting a similar project back in their country. Moving forward, I think it would be fantastic if every country represented by Fulbright had a similar project as it would help future Fulbrighters gain insight into the country they will soon be impacting.

At one of our lectures, the Germany commissioner informed us that over 90% of Americans do not study abroad, and over 70% do not have a passport. He called the audience of Fulbrighters “academic elites” just for being in Berlin and doing any effort to change the world. Honestly, though, we felt we were just doing our part. Wanting to impact the world for the better should not be a hassle, but a great (and enjoyable) responsibility. I hope that in sharing my project and my voice both in Europe and in America, I can encourage the next generation of Americans to open their minds and broaden their experiences abroad. It was a blast being able to gallivant through Berlin and network with other inspiring people while listening to their powerful projects. Whether it was creating a hockey team, producing a documentary film on migrants coming from Africa to Spain, or using music to enhance education in under privileged classrooms, we were all able to learn something new from our peers to help promote a better world for our future. None of this would be possible without the Fulbright Program, and I am blessed to have been a part of it.”

Phillip Wenturine, April 2017.

Phillip Wenturine, Catherine Salgado and Jamila Espinosa are Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, 2016/2017 and represented Portugal at the 2017 Fulbright Berlin Seminar.