Ich habe es geschafft!

I did it!

I am very sad and excited to say that I have done it. I finished my internship abroad and I am done with school for the rest of my life!!! This internship was not at all what I expected it to be back, when I found out about the German Red Cross in Duesseldorf and even when I spoke to my now, former supervisor. This was hands down one of the most mentally and emotionally difficult things I have ever successfully accomplished and I must say just how proud of myself I am.

                               The main shelter

My last week was so bittersweet, I was still all over the place (meaning, my schedule and at which shelter I was going to be at) but I ended up spending most of my last week at the main shelter where I spend a majority of my time throughout this experience. It was so hard and so sad saying goodbye to some of the residents and I even broke down in front of one of them.. But it was all because of how much I had learned from them, how loving and caring my coworkers were and how much Germany means to me personally. For my last team meeting that week, a really nice and beautiful breakfast was prepared as a goodbye to me and as a happy birthday to one of the Social Workers and one of the interpreters we work with as well. Gifts and hugs were exchanged and of course, I cried again!!! I wrote and read aloud my card from Buffalo to everyone and it was such a great day!

Picture of me and all of my coworkers and my Duesseldorf card 🙂

               Goodbye and birthday breakfast!

After I arrived back in New York and was a bit confused by all of the signs in English and was initially frustrated by people asking me at graduation, “how was Germany?”, I finally was able to reflect a bit more on my experience. There is so much I’d like to share but I would say that the biggest take away’s from this experience was the fact that I was able to do the very things I set out to do. Those things were for me to speak another language fluently enough to work in a Social Work role in another country and learn more about the immigrant and refugee population and to learn about them within the context of another country’s social welfare system. I could not have done these things without all of the amazing support and encouragement from the UBSSW faculty and staff, my family and my friends so, I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me.

Having had this experience also meant something very important to me as a black female coming from a single parent household and from a family where I am the only one, now, who has a Master’s degree. I’ve never really realized how profound what what I was doing actually was until someone recently told me and it is such an honor to have set a new standard and set myself up on a different path than that of most of my family. It also feels good because most of my life, people have never expected anything great from me. They’ve always treated me less than and treated me as if I would just be another statistic. Therefore, I really look forward to what else life will bring me and I am so excited to continue working in an international setting/ with diverse populations! Thank you again, those who have come along for the ride. Take care and feel free to contact me with any personal messages about my experience!

Best regards,

Cherice Wallace-Hill

Chericew@buffalo.edu

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Ein Wochenende in Frankreich und noch eine Woche!

A weekend in France and one week left!

I was finally able to visit a very good friend of mine and his parents (aka: my french family!) in France recently and it was a much needed trip! Although it was only 1.5 hours away on the plane, the weather was completely different and amazing there and since they live in Pornichet, along the coast, it was so nice! It was my first real trip to the country and the wine, cheese and baguette stereotypes were definitely real! 🙂

A bit more interesting however, were the conversations I had with my french family about the political tension that is unfortunately going on France to at the moment. We were all talking about Le Pen (one of the two individuals running for President in France) and how she also holds very harsh views on immigration and is very untrustworthy because of her ignorant statements about matters concerning the holocaust.  Although many people support her, it was nice to be surrounded with like-minded individuals with similar perspectives and values. I guess we will find out what happens when the final elections take place!


I cannot believe that tomorrow will be the beginning of my last week at the German Red Cross. As of two weeks ago, I have finally gotten to experience working in each of the seven shelters that belong to the agency and it has been so interesting and fun getting to know each of the shelters and the residents that live their. This coming week will be interesting because my supervisor has allowed me to spend each day wherever I choose and on Thursday (the day that we always have our weekly, day-long team meeting) we will have a “goodbye breakfast” for me which is really sweet! On Friday I will spend the day at a shelter I haven’t been to in months to help out with a party that will be happening this Saturday. The party is being held because this particular shelter will be closing and all of the residents will be relocated to another one in the

Shelter that was a former school

city center. The shelter is the one I posted the picture of and wrote about in this post. The shelter I’ve been at all last week was a former school and I just think it’s cool how creative the city is in finding these places and remodeling them to accommodate all of these individuals and families!

Overall, it feels really good to look back and see all that I’ve been able to learn, see and do and I am beyond grateful! I will write one last post where I self-reflect a little more and talk a little bit about more of how I now look at this experience on the other side. Thank you again for reading and see you one last time after this!

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Eine Konferenz in London und ein Ausflug nach Amsterdam!

A Conference in London and a Trip to Amsterdam!

I have been itching to once more take advantage of the easy accessibility of major European cities during my time here and finally I have!

Last month I and a very good German friend of mine planned a one-day trip Amsterdam and

                  A little bit of Amsterdam #1

although it was really quick, it was definitely worth it. We took a bus from Duesseldorf to Amsterdam, which was about 2.5 hours and because we were short on time and cash, we decided to just keep it simple, walk around and have some dinner before we got back on the bus. The city was WAY more crowded and full of “interesting smells” than I originally had expected but it was such a lively and beautiful place. Also, because of my “Social Work brain,” I couldn’t help but notice the fact that there were not many black people. Although the Netherlands did not colonize as many African countries as other European countries, I still assumed for some reason that in the largest city in the country, there would be a bigger presence of

                    A little bit of Amsterdam #2

Black people, but overall, there were definitely other people of color and that was fun to see.

The conference I attended was in London and my time there was phenomenal! The title of the conference was, Migrating out of Poverty: From Evidence to Policy, and although there were many sub-topics, the overall theme of the conference had to do with migration to the European union, as well as within and among other non-EU lands and the implications and interventions surrounding current trends. To shed a little more light on the topics, my favorite research question that was asked was, “Do policies that are created to minimize/limit immigration actually prevent individuals from migrating?” and it was found that, in short, no, it doesn’t make a difference. This was for me, encouraging but at the same time scary because this means that 1. provisions within these countries of origin continue to be left unmade and 2. people will have to continue putting their lives in danger in order to flee from their homes. On an interesting side note, Trump and the Brexit continuously came up throughout the conference and strangely enough, while the conference was actually going on we found out that the the final signature was signed for England to leave the EU. It was pretty surreal to us all, especially while we are discussing and fighting to promote inclusion and unity in that moment.  Overall, there were so many more interesting topics and research questions and it was an honor to have been among such experienced and knowledgeable individuals. I was also thankful to have networked a bit and exchange info with a few of the attendees and presenters.

In regards to the city itself, I honestly wasn’t expecting to be so impressed, but I was literally smiling from ear to ear the entire time I was there! I loved the confusing left-sided driving, all of the iconic sites, the dialect of course and the overall atmosphere of the city! It honestly felt like a cool mixture between the American and Western-European cultures. I say that because the cars were huge again, there was a ton of fast food everywhere and you could almost feel the pride (pride in a good way) of the people, but at the same time, there were just way more historically significant things to see, things were easily accessible and right around the corner, so to say.

I am so thankful to have had these opportunities and I thank the Field Department once more for its support in making this happen, as well as the UBSSW GSA and the UB GSA for providing me with funding to attend this amazing conference!

My next post will be about my weekend trip to France (that I am leaving for in about 2.5 hours actually) and my time at the last three out of the seven German Red Cross shelters which I finally got to visit and help out at! Thanks for reading!

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Zufällige Ereignisse/ ein Update

Random events/ an update

I’ve finally found a moment to collect my thoughts and update you all on what’s been going on over here, in Germany. I apologize for being M.I.A. for a while!

The past four weeks or so have been filled with many great, annoying, scary and weird experiences, and I wanted to highlight and share some of them here before I publish my next post about my trip to Amsterdam and London.

Event 1:  I was actually really sick with a bad cold and fever (about three weeks ago) and had to stay home for the entire week unfortunately. However, I

“Man with axe injures people in the Duesseldorf Main train station”

think my body and brain really needed the break and everyone at my internship was completely understanding and willing to help with anything that I needed.

Event 2: A man with an ax attacked several people at the main train station, here in Duesseldorf and an old WWII bomb was found in the middle of the city. Both events happened back to back and the city (and that week) was completely chaotic but fortunately, no one was died and things settled down quickly after the man was found and the bomb was deactivated.

Event 3: I’ve been slowly taking on more responsibility in regards to the consultations that we provide for the asylum seekers in the shelters each week and I have had more opportunities to serve as an interpreter as well. Although I have been constantly learning since January, I still feel as if there is so much to learn but I believe my co workers are right when they say that the best way to become good at this job is to just do it because it is impossible to learn everything and be prepared for every single situation beforehand. So, I will keep trying to be bold and brave when calling up these lawyers, insurance companies and social service agencies! In regards to the interpreting, I have to point out that it is much harder than it looks! Last week, two men from Albania showed up at the main shelter I work at asking the security if they could stay the night. Our security asked me if I could explain to them how this shelter works with admitting people and where they may be able to go on such a short notice (I knew nothing about both matters at that time). Also, this past Wednesday, a father from Iraq who spoke English came in to the consultations to have us help him fill out a form that he had received from the police station concerning his son. He told us what happened, we had to write the story for him in German, and in the end, I translated his statement back to him and then he confirmed that everything was correct.

Event 4: It’s spring!!! The winter is definitely over in Germany and it is so nice to enjoy a real spring when it is actually the spring season. There was one really nice day last week and my coworker insisted that we sit outside and take pictures, so that’s why I’ve included this random picture of me in front of flowers. I’ve also been trying to see more of Duesseldorf when I can and spend time outside. I’m glad I’ve made some time lately because I found a piece of the Berlin wall here and this cute bench!

A piece of the Berlin Wall

 

“On this bench you can only have positive thoughts” 🙂

 

Bis zum nächsten Mal! Until next time!

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Ein bisschen überfordert und frustriert…

A little overwhelmed and frustrated…

The very thing that I was afraid of happening is starting to happen. There is so much need, seemingly endless problems and unfortunately, not enough helping hands to provide the refugees and asylum-seekers in this city with the support and assistance that they need. With that being said, I am starting to feel really overwhelmed by all of the daily tasks that need to be done at my internship and frustrated that there aren’t enough Social Workers, volunteers, funds and time to get these tasks done.

I was (and still am!) so proud of Germany for opening their borders and taking on this huge responsibility of providing a home for practically one million individuals, but the truth is, is that there are not enough people who are willing and ready to serve this population. Even I, a temporary intern, with only the slightest grasp as to how all of this works here in Germany can feel the pressure and stress that results from this huge deficit. For example, trying to find a Farsi speaking interpreter to accompany one of the residents at one of the GRC’s (German Red Cross’) shelters to a doctor’s appointment is always such a challenge because there simply aren’t many people to do the job, the ones who are available are individuals who would like to be paid to do so, or they are volunteers who are happy and willing to help but work full-time with very limited availability.

Additionally, I have recently been asked to start preparing myself to move from an “assistant role” to a proper “Social Work” role. This is really exciting because it means that I can provide a little more relief to my fellow co-workers eventually and get the most out of this experience but this is also a bit daunting because there is still so much to learn and unfortunately, there is not much time to learn everything beforehand. Therefore, I will probably be doing lots of learning as I go within the next few weeks, as well as asking a million questions as they come up.

The one comforting thing that keeps me sane in the midst of all of this chaos and frustration is that I, and the residents in our shelters are extremely fortunate to have such hardworking, kind and dedicated Social Workers by our side. Although they are often overworked and stressed, they still do their job to the best of their ability, go above and beyond for each other, as well as for their clients, and for that I am extremely thankful.

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Neue und interessante Aufgaben

New and interesting tasks

Because there is so much to do and see at my internship, within the past two weeks, I have been sent all over the city and have started participating in some of the many offerings of the German Red Cross in Duesseldorf. Within each of the shelters for asylum seekers that the GRC is responsible for in Duesseldorf, the atmosphere, needs and offered programs/services are very different. At the first shelter, I helped out and spent most of my time thus far at, I have been assisting the caseworkers during the busy and chaotic drop-in hours.But this past week, I was able to meet and tag along with some of the volunteers who provide some other services. For example, I helped out in one of the German language courses by going around and double-checking sentences and answering any questions, as well as handing out new study materials.

German learning reading matierals

Some of the handouts from the German course that I assisted with

I was also able to sit in on an information session that a nurse for children and pregnant women held for a few pregnant women from Afghanistan. She then went upstairs, into a few other women’s rooms to talk and inquire more specifically about their younger children’s health and breastfeeding issues. I really enjoyed and treasured this experience because of how vulnerable, yet trusting these women were when they let us into their rooms, and they would treat us to Syrian coffee and tea and give us a comfortable place to sit while they would sit on the floor. Overall, two things that I have been realizing over and over again, is just how sweet, loving and similar these individuals are to me and that without the help of the volunteers at the shelters, things would be.. let’s just say, very different!

I was finally sent to another shelter this past week and it was much less “comfortable” than the first shelter I worked at. On the city of Duesseldorf’s site that lists all of the shelters and type of shelters, it lists this one as being made up of Leichtbauhalle (Lightweight construction halls) and to me, they looked kind of like big garages or large storage units. The electricity and heating is not as stable and insulated here and the bathrooms, kitchen and laundry facility are all located in separate buildings, which forces the residents to have to go out into the cold whenever these are needed. I and another new volunteer helped the one and only caseworker at this shelter with lots of accumulated paper work and other smaller, but time consuming tasks this week and it was clear that there is unfortunately just not enough time to do everything. But again, without extra help like this, the residents living in these shelters would be deprived of so many services and the caseworkers would be completely burnt out.

Two buildings behind a gate (aka asylum seeker shelter)

One of the “lightweight construction halls” at the second shelter

Every day at this internship is completely random, busy and chaotic. While this is sometimes stressful and overwhelming, I am really enjoying the fact that each day I am learning so much from the residents at the shelters, the volunteers who lead these necessary and extremely helpful services and of course, the caseworkers.  There are still four other shelters for me to visit and lots of other programs to sit in on/ participate in, so I am looking forward to that! Thanks for reading!

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Viele Besorgungen + meine erste Woche!

Lots of errands + my first week!

Monthly bus ticket= bought!

Visa= got it!

German phone= set up!

Cell phone

My German phone!

As my vacation started to end, I had to start thinking about reality again and planning for my four-month stay. So when I started to tackle everything, I quickly realized just how different and confusing these things were in comparison to doing them back in America. It took me and one of my German friends two and a half hours and three phone calls one day to figure out what bus ticket I need and how to purchase it, I had to find a “picture-taking” place, as well as somewhere where I could print my visa application and I had to figure out how to set up my phone after my SIM card never came in the mail. Everything got done in the end but I couldn’t help but think how annoying all of these little things were for someone who A. chose to be here, B. can speak German and C. has lots of German friends who can and are willing to help me versus an asylum seeker or immigrant who might not fall under any of this criteria. These were just a few of the many things I learned this week that asylum seekers, specifically, struggle with within the first several months after they arrive in Germany.


German Red Cross-Duesseldorf main office building from outside

German Red Cross-Duesseldorf main office

Each day of my first week was drastically different from the one before it but I quickly learned that there are lots of things that need to get done, never-ending obstacles and not as many workers as there need to be, but things still get done. This week I spent two days at one of the five refugee shelters that are here in Duesseldorf. This particular shelter was said to be the “best” one in the city because attached to the building is an Aldi, it is not in a residential area (so much fewer complaints are made from outside of the shelter) and they have lots of services and activities available to the residents within the same building. Some of the things I’ve done this week were reading and asking a lot about the asylum process in Germany, sitting in on individual consultations, assisting with data entry, attending the weekly team-meeting (consisting of my supervisor who leads the Integration and Migration department at the German Red Cross-Duesseldorf and workers at the shelters for asylum seekers) and learning more about what services and partnerships the German Red Cross-Duesseldorf has.

Although my German is not fantastic, everyone has been very welcoming, patient with and helpful to me, and for that I am beyond grateful! But even with my broken German, I’ve already been able to talk to some of the staff about the frustrations that they and this population faces. I came into this knowing that there would be challenges but learning that, like Social Work in America, there are many overarching rules and regulations that need to be considered when providing services to asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. One of the newest (and perhaps most frustrating) rules that have been put into place in Germany is that whichever city an individual/family enters into Germany as an asylum seeker, they have to stay in that same city for at least three years. This is even the case when jobs and apartments cannot be obtained or when they have family members in other cities within Germany. Through the employees’ and clients’ frustration however, there is still an attitude of patience and positivity and I really admire everyone for that. There is still so much to learn, so I am really looking forward to what’s next. I am just hoping, however, that I won’t feel too overwhelmed within the next coming weeks!

Dry erase board with weekly services and events offered at asylum seeker shelter

Services and events calendar at the shelter I visited for this week (sorry for the poor quality!)

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions about the shelter I visited, the consultations, what services the GRC provides or anything else you can think of and I will try my best to answer them or find the answers!

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Auschwitz und der Anschlag in Berlin

Auschwitz and the attack in Berlin

Where do I even begin with these topics?

I’ll start out by extending a note of caution when looking at the pictures I’ve posted. I do not want to traumatize or upset anyone so please look on with caution. Also, I would really appreciate some comments and discussion on this post because I am feeling quite overwhelmed (as Social Workers often do) with the things I’ve been learning, seeing and hearing since I’ve started this “International Social Work Journey abroad.”

I still haven’t started my internship but because of my being specifically in Germany and the recent events that have taken place here, I have already learned and conversed a lot about the hot topics that pertain specifically to this country: the Holocaust and the migrant crisis.

Visiting Auschwitz has always been something I’ve wanted to experience. Because of my newly-adopted human rights and trauma-informed Social Work perspectives, I figured now was a better time than ever to do so. I would think that to most people, visiting Auschwitz, in the bitter-cold winter, right before Christmas, would be extremely depressing but for me, it ended up being the perfect decision. There were beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere in Katowice (the Polish city where my mother and I decided to stay for two days) but once the tour company picked us up and drove us closer to the site, the 28 degree, wet and foggy weather became more apparent to us. We decided to take the tour on Tuesday, December 20th.

Entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp with the famous "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes you free) sign.

Entrance to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The very first thing we saw was the same entrance to the camp where hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the Holocaust walked through. The famous Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes you Free) sign on the entrance gates to the camp was described by our tour guide as a “cynical forewarning” to those who entered unwillingly. The heavy fog directly behind it and throughout the entire camp set the tone for the rest of the tour. There were so many new and under-discussed things that I had learned, saw and felt and it would take a very long time for me to share everything here, but the pictures I’ve decided to include are images of some of the things that really hit me the most. Throughout the entire experience, one of the reoccurring questions I kept asking myself was, “How could human beings stand to participate in and encourage such acts every single day?” At the end of the tour, our tour guide thanked us for coming and she told us how important it was for this generation to see places like Auschwitz because in her words, “if it happened once, it could surely happen again.”

Entrance to the camp and exact location where prisoners were unloaded from train cars

Train entrance to the camp and exact location where                  prisoners were unloaded from train cars

Scratches on the wall inside one of the gas chambers

The walls inside one of the gas chambers

A handful of the faces of prisoners who died here. Below each picture was each individual's place of origin, their age, the date they arrived in the camp and when they died in the camp. Many of the ones I read died after about a week of entering the camp.

A handful of the faces of prisoners who died in Auschwitz. Below each picture was each individual’s place of origin, their age, the date they arrived in the camp and when they died in the camp. Many of the ones I read died after about a week of entering the camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confiscated shoes of the inmates behind glass

Confiscated shoes of the inmates

 

 


When we got back to our hotel after the tour and turned on our TV in the hotel room, the first thing we saw was what happened in Berlin (5 hours northwest of us). It was such an emotional day already and then to hear about the attack in the same day was really upsetting, to say the least. Like many people, I immediately started to question and think, Was this related to ISIS? Was this the doing of newly resettled refugee? (and as hard as it is for me to share this with others, I was being hopeful when I thought,) Maybe it was just a German native so that the spotlight will be taken off of the asylum-seekers and refugees in Germany.. But with the more people I talk to about this and the longer I am here, the more I realize that it doesn’t matter who carries out these acts because what it comes down to is that there is absolutely no correlation between violence and one’s nationality or residence status.

Whenever the opportunity has arisen, I have made it a point to ask German people about their thoughts and perspectives on the Holocaust and the recent migration crisis and to my surprise, all of the responses have been very similar. Overall, there is a message of humility, hope and a highly prioritized value for human life that is expressed, and I find it so refreshing. The final national news broadcasting in Germany for 2016 aired last night and of the many topics discussed in the “year recap” segment, were the several terrorist attacks that occurred in Europe and the migration crisis. However, what stood out to me the most was how purposeful they were in showing footage and including the stories of individuals affected on both sides, as well as its end on a positive note. I really appreciated and needed this and even though there are still many unknowns that lie ahead, I choose, like the people of Germany, to focus on the positive things and on remaining hopeful.

Berliners refusing to be divided after the 12/19 Christmas market attack

Berliners refusing to be divided after the 12/19 Christmas                                     market attack

I have lots more to share about Auschwitz, Poland in general, last week’s attack in Berlin and what I have observed to be the German perspective on these things so I welcome any and all discussion and questions on these things and anything else that may come to your mind! Thank you for reading and I hope this has been interesting in some way for you! Have a happy, safe and positive New Year!

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Duesseldorf from above

Ich bin angekommen!

I’ve arrived!

So after three car rides, two bus trips, one non-stop flight and a total of 19 hours of travel, I reached Duesseldorf yesterday morning, on Saturday, December 17th, 2016!image2

After my mom and I landed, we had to go through passport control- my least favorite part of traveling. I was really nervous about this for the past month or so because of visa requirements but it ended up being a really pleasant experience. Because my American passport allows me to enter and stay in countries within the European Union (Germany included) for up to three months without a visa, I did not come with one (even though I plan on staying for five months total). I anticipated that the passport control police would interrogate me or not let me come in (just because I mentally prepare myself for the worse for no reason sometimes) but the gentlemen I saw was the nicest guy ever! After he said hello, I told him that I would be here for five months doing an internship and that I will apply for a visa within the next three months. He smiled, said wow, stamped my passport and said have a good day! So the “hardest” part was over!

My very kind landlord picked me and my mom up from the airport shortly after, gave us a quick driving tour of the Stadtzentrum (City Center) of Duesseldorf and then let me into my cozy apartment. My mom and I then sat and had tea, coffee and cookies with him and his wife and lots of translating and switching back and forth between German and English went on during the next hour, which is always fun!

Made bed with a window and picture next to it

My amazing landlord already set up my apartment for me!

Then I unpacked my two suitcases, relaxed for a bit, got some take out pizza from this amazing Italian restaurant two minutes away by foot, did a little food shopping and just soaked it all in. It feels good to be back in one of my favorite countries in the world but I can already tell how different it is this time. I feel so much more independent and linguistically prepared than other times I’ve visited, but I also feel a little shocked that this is all really happening after starting this process over a year ago! Thankfully I have some time to reflect, continue learning and have some fun before the real work starts in a few weeks!

 

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