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        Building a New Foundation

        In this lesson, students examine common perceptions of immigrants and refugees with the goal of debunking them using the actual poignant stories and struggles of people who have left their homelands to resettle in very new places. Students revisit perceptions after delving into the journeys, challenges, dreams and goals of those who have left their countries to build better lives.

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, students examine common perceptions of immigrants and refugees with the goal of debunking them using the actual poignant stories and struggles of people who have left their homelands to resettle in very new places. Students revisit perceptions after delving into the journeys, challenges, dreams and goals of those who have left their countries to build better lives.

        Meet the young students in Mr. Zingg's integration class, who came to Switzerland by planes, trains and automobiles--and even by rubber boats. Separated from their families and in many cases traumatized by events in their home countries, these migrants from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Serbia and Venezuela already have long and arduous journeys behind them. Neuland ("New Territory") follows the adolescents over two years as they learn a new language, prepare themselves for employment and reveal their innermost hopes and dreams. But as the end of school draws near, each student must face the same difficult question: Is there a place for me in this country?

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        Time Allotment

        Two 50-minute class periods

        Learning Objectives


          By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
        • Reflect on their perceptions of immigrants and refugees
        • Identify the challenges immigrants and refugees face in their homelands and in their new lands
        • Recognize the common circumstances international immigrants and refugees face
        • Reflect on what influences the paths immigrants and refugees take in their new lands
        • Discuss how to support immigrants and refugees as they try to make new lives in new places



        • Film clips from Neuland and equipment on which to show them
        • Two-by-eight-inch strips (or in any case strips large enough that students can write on them) of poster board. Each student will need 1-3 strips.
        • Markers
        • Masking tape

        Introductory Activity

        1. Place poster board strips, markers and masking tape in a central location. Invite students to write down one or more than one statement, one per strip, that reflects common perceptions about immigrants. These perceptions don't have to be personal but can be based on stereotypes, general knowledge, facts and so forth. The statements can be positive or negative, and they may even be written as questions. Have students place their strips in one location. Shuffle them thoroughly (to maintain student anonymity) and then ask students to take a few strips each to post around the room with masking tape.

        Learning Activities

        2. Instruct students to move around the room to read the statements, making mental notes of common themes. Invite students to share the themes and what they suggest about people's perceptions of immigrants. Have students discuss whether the themes are mostly positive or negative; what they say about immigrants' lives and circumstances; and what they don't say, meaning what information (why people leave their countries, goals, dreams, desire to succeed and contribute and so on) is missing that might enlighten and change perceptions.

        3. Tell students they will delve into the stories of immigrants and refugees as they watch clips from the film Neuland, about students in a two-year government-funded integration program for young immigrants in Switzerland. Explain that while this film takes place in Switzerland, the stories of the featured young people mirror the stories of immigrants and refugees around the world. Be sure to explain the difference between an immigrant and a refugee:

        • A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, [refugees] cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency:
        •  Most refugees and displaced persons return to their communities when peace and stability return to their countries. When conditions in countries of origin remain unstable or there is a danger of persecution upon repatriation, some refugees are able to stay in a refugee settlement in another country. Unfortunately, many host countries are unable to accept refugees permanently. Resettlement in a third country, such as the United States, is the last option, and is available to only a tiny fraction of the world's refugees. International Rescue Committee:
        •  An immigrant is a person who has chosen to settle permanently in another country.
        •  The difference between a refugee and an immigrant: A refugee is forced to flee for his or her life. An immigrant chooses to move to another country.

        4. Distribute the New Lives graphic organizer. Instruct students to review the chart and take notes in the relevant sections as they watch the clips. For example, under languages, they can note the different languages the students speak, what is similar in terms of their language goals and challenges they face in their new lands, and how their language skills might impede their journeys toward resettlement and finding work.

        5. Show the film clips. For best viewing and discussion, show three to four clips at a time and then discuss their main themes. If desired, intersperse viewing with one or more of the relevant discussion questions in Step 6 below.

        6. After viewing the clips, pose some (that were not used in Step 5) or all of the following discussion questions:


        • Why is the "journey" for young immigrants and refugees in a new homeland particularly hard? Which factors contribute to their challenges?
        • How do the featured individuals respond to adversity? How do they build their resilience?
        • Do you think the young people in the film, and other immigrants and refugees in general, want to stay in their new lands? Explain.
        • What influences the decisions immigrants and refugees make once in their new homelands? Do these decisions always reflect their desires, dreams and goals? Discuss.
        • Has your perception of immigrants and refugees changed based on the film's stories? How?
        • Why might people have negative views of immigrants and refugees? What do they need to know in order better to understand the true situation of these individuals?

        7. Explore with students what types of support they believe can benefit refugees and immigrants as they resettle.


        • Describe the various aspects of the integration program shown in the film.
        • What else do the young people in the film and others like them need in order to make a go of their new environments successfully and comfortably?

        Culminating Activity

        8. Have students consider the range of assistance that their school can provide for immigrants and refugees. Students can draw on what they learned from the film, from fellow students who are integrating and resettling themselves, from programs in their community and so on. Instruct them to write recommendations to the school. Those recommendations should include suggestions for how they can work in partnership with the school for the provision of services and in changing the negative perspectives fellow students might have about refugees and immigrants.



        1. Leaving Their Homeland
        Some of the young people featured in Neuland have left their homelands because of traumatizing events, such as war and political persecution. Ask students to examine the conditions in nations such as Serbia and Afghanistan (nations from which some of the young people in the film have come) to learn more about the events that have forced people to uproot their lives. Or, students can examine conditions in nations from which people in their community and/or school have come. Each student can conduct individual research on a nation of their choice, with all students comparing and contrasting nations afterward to find commonalities. They can discuss whether conditions in these countries are likely to change for the better, and if yes, whether immigrants or refugees with new lives in new places will return (or have returned) to their homelands. Sources to jumpstart the exploration include:

        2. Preparing for the Workforce
        For an immigrant or refugee, coming to a new place can be challenging on many levels, from learning an unfamiliar language to negotiating housing. Even more difficult is finding work, especially when one is not fully fluent in the local language; lacks permanent residency; needs to learn new skills; and does not have connections. This is the case for the youth featured in Neuland, who are shown negotiating these challenges through a specialized program that prepares them to adjust to life in Switzerland.

        Discuss with students the challenges the youth face as they seek positions for a "taster" week to try out local businesses. Have them consider whether young people in America encounter somewhat similar challenges as they seek apprenticeships, internships and jobs, and ask them to describe those commonalties. Given these challenges, what are some steps young people can take before they begin this search in order to be "workforce" ready. For example, what should they be doing in school? What skills do they need to develop? What contacts might they make before they do search? Essentially, what would make the process smoother and more successful?

        3. Assisting in Resettlement

            For refugees and immigrants, education is often part of the process of settling in a new land, and education may be especially relevant when it comes to learning language, negotiating the workplace and so on. Students can explore the various types of programs that serve these groups. They can then determine what basic elements should be standard across programs to ensure successful resettlement. Resources to jumpstart this exploration include:


        4. Leaving Home
        Students can write personal pieces about their actual experiences of moving to new places, being refugees or immigrants and so on to include in an anthology created to change negative perceptions of refugees and immigrants resettling in their community.


        You can find additional resources at The POV site includes a general discussion guide with additional activity ideas.

        POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
        This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.

        American Immigration Council

        Amnesty International: "In Search of Safety"

        Do Something: "11 Facts About Refugees"

        DW: "Young Refugees From Africa Face Up to the Challenges of Life in Europe"

        The Salvation Army: "Refugees and Asylum Seekers Factsheet"

        MENTOR: "Mentoring Immigrant & Refugee Youth: A Toolkit for Program Coordinators"

        Migration Policy Institute (MPI)

        PBS NewsHour: "UN Report: Global Refugee Crisis Has Hit All-time High"

        POV: Special Flight

        Refugees International

        Teaching Tolerance: "Refugees"

        UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency

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