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College event gives students glimpse into refugee experience

Cornell students get a glimpse at life as a refugee.

There are more than 60 million refugees globally, and one local liberal arts college is adding to that number for a unique educational experience.

Students turned refugees on the campus of Cornell College, capping off a week of events honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The refugee simulation was intended to put students in the shoes of people displaced and seeking shelter in a foreign country, to challenge the narrative that immigrating is easy.

"It's really hard to understand what it'd be like to have my language taken away from me," said Cornell junior Talitha McGuire, getting a brief glimpse into life as a refugee. "I'm really glad that we're going through this exercise because my perception of it is completely different and I think this is kind of opening my mind up to what we it would be actually like."

More than one hundred students attended, splitting into teams of roughly five, and those teams immediately split apart to mimic losing loved ones in a refugee camp.

"We were blindfolded and had to find our family," said Cornell senior Sandra Gomez. "If this was real, I'd be scared.'

Upon finding their original group, the students filled out paperwork, which was written in gibberish to imitate what immigration application papers look like to refugees who speak a different language.

Gomez's group was initially rejected by border patrol agents played by faculty, which was "frustrating."

"All our hopes on this one piece of paper, and no explanation," said Gomez. "We got denied and we had no idea how to figure out the papers."

Organizers understand the simulation is on a much smaller scale than actual refugee hardships.

Coordinator Hemie Collier, who serves as the college's director of intercultural life said he hopes the confusion within the exercise breeds compassion for those actually facing obstacles when seeking refuge.

"[The students] get to go home, go back to their beds, but for that four or five hours, they went through something that thousands upon millions of people have to go through," said Collier. "Hopefully they take away a better understanding of what life is like as a refugee."

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