ASU Dean's Medal recipient interviewed refugees abroad


Gabriel Sandler

Many students find studying abroad brings cultural awareness and helps their language skills. Edward Garcia, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal recipient at Arizona State University, used his language skills abroad to help others.

Garcia went to Lyon, France during summer 2016. There he took classes in French theater and cinema in addition to his language courses. The classrooms brought students together from all different backgrounds, the one common denominator being their French studies.

“We hardly ever spoke in any other language and hardly ever stayed home,” Garcia said. “We spent almost every night together exploring the city.”

At the university, Garcia noticed the prominent Syrian population, validating a French expression, “Blanc, Black et Beur.” It translate to, “White, Black and Arab,” and comments on France’s diversity. Garcia wanted to understand that diversity on a deeper level and decided to interview refugees and immigrants around Lyon.

At ASU School of International Letters and Cultures, Garcia had experience with professors allowing him to complete creative projects and pursue specific interests. The liberty of his studies combined with sophisticated upper-level courses prepared him to interview sources with confidence.

“I began to explore some of more eclectic neighborhoods in Lyon where I found immigrants and refugees from several different countries. Each one of them had a fascinating story about their journey to France and the struggles they faced adapting to French language and culture,” Garcia said. “In the end I was able to find people from all walks of life, from business owners to beggars.”

One of the business owners he interviewed was a local restaurant owner, Burhan, who came to France after fleeing the Iraqi-Kurdish civil war. The man was restricted in Iraq from speaking his native language and found his culture prohibited . Once he made it to France, he joined a traveling comedy troupe, eventually settling in Lyon.

One of Garcia’s most memorable interviews ended up being his classmate, a Syrian man who had escaped the civil war.

“As a university student in Syria he witnessed the violence which followed the revolts,” Garcia explained. “[He] was eventually imprisoned until finally escaping through Lebanon where he received a scholarship to study in France.”

Garcia interviewed around a dozen refugees, presenting on three of their stories to accommodate privacy requests.

After going abroad and delving deep into the French language, Garcia hopes to join the Teaching Assistant Program in France, and one day continue on as a professor of literature.

For Garcia, learning a foreign language, “breaks down the artificial barriers which separate us. Though we are ostensibly different, from different tongues and various regions, interiorly we are the same with similar wishes and worries.”