WOU Alum Eriqa Hermen always dreamed of backpacking across Europe. As she and her friend prepared to take their one-month journey, they were not quite prepared for what they would encounter. Along the way they were exposed to much of the repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis.
To give you a little bit more information about what is going on there, Syria has been battling a civil war since 2011. About 16 million Syrians have been forced out of their homes, roughly half of them being children who are left to fend for themselves. Most children in this situation have had to drop out of school. The refugees have been fleeing to neighboring countries in an effort to escape the violence. Eriqa came in contact with many protesters of the migration in her travels across Eastern Europe. She says that it is thought that these refugees are not willing to integrate into these cultures in which they are “invading” and are rather trying to take over. After witnessing the demonstrations and hearing the things the protesters had to say, Eriqa has become even more inspired to want to help. She has worked very hard to spread the message about what is going on all across Eastern Europe so that these refugees may be able to have a real chance at a better life away from the violence that has consumed their home.
Eriqa did not have the opportunity to help as much as she wanted to. She was not in a place where she had the resources she needed to be helpful. If she were home in Sweden, this would be a different story. However, because she could not help the way that she wanted to, she is making sure that she can spread the message of what is truly going on over there, and how others can help in their own way.
When asked to give advice to WOU students who wish to travel abroad in the way she did, Eriqa said ” Get informed about prejudice, don’t assume too much and be aware your assumptions and beliefs will more than likely be proven to not fully fit reality. Be open to the world and other people. Be aware. The people you meet will have a different view than you do because they have a different background. Be open to change yourself too, don’t be stuck.”
As for organizations on campus to be involved in, if you are interested about learning more about political issues both here and abroad, Eriqa suggests the WOU Model UN (MUN). You meet people from all over the world, and you get to learn a lot about humanitarian, social, economic, cultural, and political problems of the world that we live in.
Being an advocate, and having to talk about something that has such a huge effect on our world can be a very difficult job. We commend you, Eriqa for stepping up to the plate and sharing your story of your experience so that so many other people can be informed.