Ashlee Messer knew after a dinner with Vietnam refugees that she was changed forever.
She was one of seven International Studies Club members who took a trip to a refugee resettlement program in Phoenix, Arizona.
"I cried when we had dinner with the Vietnamese, the man that bought us all dinner," she said. ‘If it weren’t for the Vietnam War, I wouldn’t have my freedom, I have to pay it back to you,’ " he said.
I lost it," Messer said.
She has since applied for an internship working with refugees.
The rich culture and diverse people were a surprise to students on the trip.
"I learned so much because it wasn’t what I expected," Messer said.
Other group members also said the trip changed them.
"There was a lot of emersion into different cultures; I would recommend that to anyone," Jesiqua Hutchison said.
This is the first year that the International Studies Club has gone on this trip.
Club advisor Joanna Sabo, a political science professor, said she wasn’t very well versed on the topic of refugee resettlement before taking the trip.
Sabo was contacted by MCCC alumnus Sarai Richter about taking students to see the program.
Richter is the executive director of the Iraqi American Society, Refugee Center of Phoenix.
In Arizona the group stayed in a hostel where they met people from Hungary, Haiti, and Korea.
Sabo said that she has stayed in multiple hostels, but this was by far the coolest one.
The group also toured Refugee Focus, which is a federally funded program that gets refugees set up with housing essentials, and works with them to find employment to start their life.
Students learned what it means to be a refugee.
"People don’t know the difference between refugees and immigrants, people need to know the difference." Hutchison said.
Refugees are people who are forced to flee their home because of conflicts, wars, and attempted genocide.
Immigrants come to the United States for many different but entirely voluntary reasons.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, there are over 15 million refugees worldwide; 80 percent are women and children.
Refugees spend 14-17 years on average in refugee camps bordering the countries that they are fleeing, waiting for sponsors to pay for them to come to the United States.
The U.S. government releases a document every year with the number of refugees that are permitted to enter the country.
Only 1 percent of the people waiting for their sponsors ever see resettlement.
Once the lucky ones make it to the U.S., they go to a refugee resettlement program like the one in Phoenix.
Arizona has averaged about 2,000 refugees per year since 1999.
The MCCC group met with a group of very lucky refugees from Vietnam and had dinner with them.
These refugees are now successful business owners and have been resettled in the U.S. for 15-20 years.
The group also had dinner at the Somalian United Council with Somalian refugees, along with a picnic with the Iraqi American Peace Summit where they did face painting.
Hutchison said they tried all kinds of custom foods, and that things don’t always taste the way they look.
"I loved the goat," Messer said.
The group didn’t have a lot of free time on the trip but they did manage to climb Echo Trail on Camelback Mountain, which they later found out was a level 5 trail.
"It was too funny," Sabo said.
The group got a grant for $1000 dollars from The Foundation at MCCC for the trip and some expenses were covered by the International Studies Club. The remainder of the trip was student funded.
Sabo said she wished more students could have experienced the trip, but that out of state trips are expensive and The Foundation likes to support more innovative and new things.
There is a possibility that a similar trip will be planned in the future to a refugee resettlement program in Grand Rapids, Michigan which would make the cost cheaper for students.
Regardless of cost this trip changed lives.
"Something I could see myself doing someday is helping these groups," Sabo said.
Group members have been applying for jobs and scholarships in related fields because of the trips.
"They want to be something, they don’t just want a free ride, they want to do something," Messer said.
Hutchison has applied for a job with AmeriCorps which is like the Peace Corps but within the U.S.
"I wouldn’t have done that without this trip," she said.
The group will be doing a brown bag discussion titled The Lost Boys and Other Refugees: MCCC Students Visit Refugee Refocus. Sponsered by the the International Studies Club on April 16 from 12:30 – 1:30 in A173c.
There will also be a presentation for The Foundation at MCCC on April 13.