2012 DukeEngage Letters Home


During the summer of 2012, students in the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ DukeEngage: Dublin program wrote reflections of their time working with immigrants and refugees in the Dublin area which were published in the weekly publication Metro Eireann.

Educate Together Program

Educate Together aims to foster an accepting environment in schools
By Anna Qiu and Derek Lindsey

As part of its DukeEngage program, Duke University has given eight of its students the opportunity to complete an eight-week internship with different organisations that work with migrant communities and focus on issues relevant to new communities in Dublin. We have been working with Educate Together, an organisation that establishes multi-denominational schools in Ireland as an alternative to single-denominational schools. As graduates of American public schools, which are generally non-denominational, we have been surprised and impressed by Educate Together’s multi-denominational focus.

Increasingly, Irish students have a choice between denominational or multi-denominational schools, such as those connected to Educate Together. Educate Together schools seek to embrace the diversity of cultures and beliefs as a core element of their mission. With its Learn Together curriculum, Educate Together encourages students to think about their place in a society filled with an eclectic mix of different cultures and beliefs. Our first visit to an Irish multi-denominational school––Esker Educate Together National School––exemplified the benefits derived from the recognition and appreciation of others’ cultures, even at the primary school level. Our time at Esker also highlighted in our minds the differences between the broader educational landscape in Ireland and that which exists in America.

An Esker assembly during which children performed dramatizations of weddings to exhibit different belief systems’ marriage traditions demonstrated Educate Together’s general emphasis on cultural appreciation. Projects illustrating different countries and their unique cultures adorned the hallways and served as a testament to such appreciation. Brightly coloured posters outlining the four strands — Moral and Spiritual, Equality and Justice, Belief Systems, and Ethics and the Environment — of Educate Together’s Learn Together curriculum reminded us of the aim to create a more accepting generation of students by exposing them to various belief systems and emphasizing the importance of equality, justice, and human rights. A chorus of both students and staff members belting Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” concluded our visit and highlighted the hope that Esker’s students will learn to contribute to and thrive in an accepting society.

The energy and vibrancy of the culture at Esker prompted us to ask ourselves some questions that had less to do with the school itself or Educate Together and more to do with society, culture and education in America and in Ireland. First, we wondered about the implications of emphasizing religion as the key marker of difference instead of race, ethnicity, or class as in the US. Certainly religion has and will remain a key characteristic of Irish society, while race and ethnic or national diversity on a large scale is a more recent reality. In America, on the other hand, the separation of church and state ingrained in our constitution has, in recent times, prevented any sort of religious imprint on the public education system, while race has been the crux of many of the most troubling chapters in our national and educational history. As America’s public primary and secondary education is characterized by increasing racial and economic isolation, we wondered what might be gained if Irish schools sought to realize the educational benefits of racial and national diversity as well as religious diversity. Conversely, we questioned whether American schools strive to foster religious difference simply as a by-product of an emphasis on racial diversity.

Second our school visit led us to consider how multi-denominational schooling—which we saw in action at Esker—differs from denominational schooling or non-denominational schooling, the basis upon which public schools in America operate. Of note is the fact that Esker and other Educate Together schools aim to foster, in support of their ethical curriculum, an environment that encourages students to reflect upon their beliefs and the appreciation of living with those of different belief systems and perspectives. While the typical American school values diversity in the composition of its student body, this is rarely mirrored in its curriculum. In our case, a heavy emphasis on sometimes extreme political correctness kept us from formally recognizing any differences between our peers and ourselves. Is it a requirement when teaching a social or personal development curriculum in a school that all beliefs are presented as equals? Is a diverse population enough to inspire acceptance among students, as American schools seem to believe?

Of course, no one model alone holds the key to a completely accepting society. Still, we find great value in Educate Together’s approach to contributing to an explicit embrace of diversity in its curriculum. Currently, only about 3% of primary schools in Ireland are multi-denominational and there are no Educate Together secondary schools. We feel that the ideals of the Educate Together mission are admirable and that it is an opportune time, in an increasingly diverse society, to seek its expansion while exploring what diversity might mean in Ireland.

Literacy and Inclusion

More Than Just Fact and Figures: The Importance of promoting Both English literacy and social inclusion for refugees
By Anthony Pecoraro

As an American student whose previous idea of international travel was the occasional jaunt across the border to Canada, I expected coming to Dublin this summer to bring a pretty good amount of culture shock. However, this being a very metropolitan city, the hardest thing I’ve had to adjust to is developing a keener ear to the Irish accent. This summer I have had the opportunity to work at the City of Dublin VEC Separated Children’s Service, specifically in the Refugee Access Programme (RAP) School. This programme provides short-term education in basic subjects like English and Maths in preparation for separated children to enter the mainstream Irish education system. Students at the school at the time of our recent graduation spoke 10 separate mother tongues and truly hailed from all over the world. I have found that the biggest struggle the non-native speaking students encountered in their efforts to integrate was not, in fact, mastering English, but rather overcoming the anxiety at hearing their own voices speaking English. Indeed, this apprehension—perhaps accentuated by the vulnerable positions in which the students found themselves– was a more formidable barrier to communication in Ireland than the production of the language itself.

Very recently, our programme received students from a country in which English is the language of instruction in their schools. As native English speakers (or close to it) we naturally assume that English is, in essence, English through-and-through. Yet, when presented with a preliminary assessment of English literacy, these students presented at the level of absolute beginner. Three days later, after the initial shock of the arrival had worn off and they had become slightly more assimilated and comfortable with school life, they demonstrated English skills on par with some of the most advanced students in the school who had been studying for up to 6 months. The teachers at RAP are good, but not quite that good. The only possible explanation for the first assessment was that anxiety at encountering English as the dominant language for the first time had made it difficult for them to exhibit their true level of proficiency. Another student arrived – truly – with not a word of English competency. Three weeks after starting school, we could goad him into saying each individual word of a single, simple sentence. Yet, when we tried to get him to string those words together in a cogent sentence – just like the communication he now hears around him in Ireland – he simply could not convince himself to say it. He had the skills, but hadn’t broken the barrier of fear of failure that results when one is forced from a comfort zone into uncharted territory.

None of this timidity in producing words and sentences in English is, of course, the fault of the students’. Oftentimes, these young people are without family or, indeed, anyone with whom they can converse in their native tongue. To be scared and isolated, then, only serves to heighten their lack of enthusiasm to communicate in a foreign language. In reality, no one is to blame for their reluctance, save for a system that defines these young adults as “separated children” in the first place. This category and the isolation that comes with it makes it very hard for the students to feel at ease and confident in their own skins. Removing the fear of failure, eliminating the fear of never being be able to communicate in a strange land, would stimulate the flow of language and rate of integration into Irish culture. In order to promote assimilation of migrant these young adults to life and education in Ireland, more might be done to create a sense of comfort that would make it easier for them to “take the chance” of expressing themselves in the common language and functioning in an English-speaking environment. If the young adults feel as though they’re making positive strides in being integrated and accepted as part of the culture – comfortable in their new home – instead of concerning themselves with navigating the clumsy bureaucracy of asylum seeking alone in Ireland, their education would benefit. In the end, this would also create a positive feedback loop of social integration and advancement of communication in their new country. It may be prudent to extend education to include available services, agencies, and people that would help the young people in times of great stress. If comfort in the new home is given more importance we very well may see a remarkably accelerated learning curve in regard to both English literacy and community engagement. 

Regional Identities

A view from the South
By Caroline Latta

Since arriving in Ireland a little over two months ago, I have developed a new hobby. Though I can pronounce approximately three words with an Irish accent, my American accent makes it rather obvious that I am not Irish. While the discovery of my origins is met with curiosity and never-ending discussions about President Obama, my favourite inquiry is my own: What comes to your mind when you think about America?

Of course, there are the stereotypes that we will probably never live down such as fast food, obesity and capitalism. But what strikes me most after repeatedly asking this question is that none of these stereotypes come even close to encompassing the wide-ranging cultures that exist within the US. Like in Ireland, each region of the United States has a different personality. Before I left for Ireland, I knew this summer was going to be challenging for me because, at 21 years old, I have never spent more than a few weeks outside of my home state of North Carolina.

North Carolina is a part of one of the most distinctive cultures in the US—the South. In many ways, the South contradicts the typical American stereotypes. Instead of fast-paced city life, the South is branded as being carefree and simple. Southerners are known for their distinct accents, adherence to proper etiquette and never-ending kindness. In this world of inexorable politeness, strangers are not afraid to smile at you as you pass them on the street or say, “Good morning!,” gestures that would be accompanied by peculiar looks in most other parts of the country.

In the few weeks leading up to my departure, I tried to relish my time in the South knowing that it would be inaccessible for 8 weeks. However, I soon noticed that many of the aspects of southern culture that I deeply cherish seemed to have followed me to Ireland. Passing people on the street, I can exchange a smile with a stranger without receiving weird, judging looks. And the continual willingness to strike up a conversation brings me back to the community I left behind.

Nothing epitomizes the similarities between these culture more than an experience I once had on the train. Since I was travelling alone, I had made sure to bring ample reading material so as to curtail my boredom. But I didn’t get the chance to even open a book because right before the train left Heuston Station, an elderly couple asked to sit in the seats across from me. What started as a simple question turned into a 2 hour conversation that spanned everything from my career plans to their recent vacation to London. Besides having a chatty disposition, the couple extended me the utmost kindness. As the food cart came down the aisle, the man insisted on buying me a Coke even though I tried to assure him that it wasn’t necessary. And after telling them my final destination, they gave me lots of suggestions for sites to see and places to eat.

Besides the outgoing and cordial people, Ireland and the South share another unique quality—even though the circumstances may have been different, both cultures have had to learn to incorporate new communities into their long-standing, rigid culture as they tackled with the idea of integration. Though the African community was around before America gained its independence, Africans were never truly considered to be a part of society since, as slaves, they were often simply regarded as property. It wasn’t until the abolishment of slavery at the end of the 19th century that the South, where the number of African slaves actually outnumbered the white population, had to come to terms with integration. All of a sudden, the white southerners had to learn how to live not just with but amongst the estranged African community. However, while the South has had over a century to acclimate to the idea of integration, Ireland is just now grappling with it.

Although there are major differences between Irish and Southern culture, their similarities came as an unexpected comfort to me during my acclimation to life in Dublin. Being greeted by friendly people at every turn has reminded me that things aren’t always as different as they may seem. Though I am excited to return back to my life in the South, I take comfort in knowing that my southern state of mind exists in at least one other part of the world.

Integration Challenges

The Challenge of Integration
By Kiran Bhai and Sahil Prasada

Do you need to define integration to be able to integrate? Social inclusion and integration are taken for granted in the United States. Rarely it seems do daily conversations turn to questions of integration. And yet as a country of immigrants, the past several hundred years have been a history of efforts at integration—some more successful than others. And while often unclearly articulated and even more often imperfectly realized, denunciations of the principle of integration are, in fact, rather rare. Inclusion and equality are a central part of the American ethos. In the United States—in principle if not in practice—everyone should have the freedom to maintain his or her culture. Yes, there are still signs of inequality and discrimination in the United States including the demographics of college and high school graduates, segregation in housing, and much more, but it is very rare to find either a public or private defense of institutional racism.

It is within this context that one American of Indian and one of Pakistani descent find conversations of integration in Ireland quite curious. Perhaps more curious still is how “two brown people” have experienced racial integration in Ireland. In the United States, we rarely feel racially targeted or even racially noticed. But in Ireland we are much more self conscious of our difference. Bystanders often stare at our strangely diverse group, which includes students of all background such as Chinese-American, Black, and White. Our “exclusion” was especially evident one evening in Galway, when our group decided to go to a local club on a Saturday evening. On our way into the busy club, one of us was frisked at the entrance. Thinking this was standard for clubs in Galway, I waited patiently for my other friends to come and get searched after me. Realizing that everyone else in the group who was not Indian quickly went into the club, sometimes without even getting their ID’s thoroughly checked, I was shocked. Such subtle racism was frustrating, and I was shocked at how bluntly the bouncers searched the “Brown” man at this nightclub. After such an event, our group collectively reached a realization that many of our interactions with the Irish were often based on some sort of subtle racism. Interestingly, these initial subtle signs of racism often decrease after people realize that we are all American. It is as if being American allows me to have a sense of validation.

These experiences and observations of interactions between the Irish and the foreigners, including migrants who plan on creating a life in Ireland, reflect what we believe is social inclusion, or lack there of, in Ireland. Working with New Communities Partnership has provided us with much experience and knowledge on immigration in Ireland through the lens of policy. Seeing the challenges organizations like NCP have to face in order to establish forums for integration, receive funding from various organizations and the government, and represent the migrant community has shaped our views on the Irish attitude on integration and migrants. From our limited view these past 6 weeks in Dublin, we believe that the issue in integration and social inclusion is that there is often a clear definition, of integration to address the new, shifting population in Ireland. Without a uniform definition and goal for integration and social inclusion that fits the needs of the new immigrants, the members of the government, and organizations such as NCP, reaching integration will be unnecessarily hindered. Perhaps because of a lack of clear definition it has taken the United States hundreds of years to come to even a partial understanding of racial difference. Maybe a clear definition would speed the process in Ireland.


Integration: What’s the Goal?
By Mischa-von-Derek Aikman

Along with 7 other students from Duke University (North Carolina, U.S.A) I was incredibly excited when I learned we would be working with various organizations in Dublin this summer. However, when I discovered that I would be interning with the Dublin City Council’s Office for Integration, the initial wave of excitement quickly morphed into one of uncertainty. This sense of uneasiness did not stem from the fear of being incapable of completing the tasks that might be assigned to me; rather, it stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be doing this summer. After all, what does an Office for Integration do?

You can imagine that my apprehension only strengthened as I was asked to draft a “map” of what “integration” looks like in an Intercultural Dublin as a part of my work. While both integration and interculturalism were concepts I had previously encountered within a theoretical framework, I realized that academic debates only hinted at the richness of these concepts. More importantly, these particular terms were not categories through which myself (and other Duke Students) actually viewed reality. I came to understand that in order for me to map what integration looked like, I had to try to grasp what integration meant and what it encompassed on the ‘ground level.’

The very nature of the work that I was doing with the Office for Integration exposed me to an extensive range of organizations and initiatives. Together these organizations helped me to wrap my head around what was indeed happening on the ground level. Constantly interacting with people from very different backgrounds allowed me to view the numerous facets that are involved in attempting to make immigration ‘work.’ While every individual organization confidently advanced and lived a conception of integration, there was no correspondence between these definitions and those being lived by other organizations. For instance, one group might see getting national recognition as a necessary step in their work of integrating. While the intention behind this strategic step may have initially been simply something that had to be done in order for their efforts regarding integration to be more effective, I worried that they risked losing sight of the ultimate goal. Perhaps striving to gain national recognition distorts their vision for integration, and consequently becomes their goal.

Having engaged with these different outlooks on integration, I am left wondering: What is the bigger picture? Can you have an Integrated society or even a city made up of a host of distinctive conceptions of integration and the means to realize them? But then, the tables were suddenly turned one day when one of my interviewees asked: How does America ensure integration is present. My inability to give an answer made me realize that the reason I felt integrated at home was because I was raised in what was already a relatively integrated society. Yes we do have cultural institutions that “promote” integration in America, but is the fact that I feel as if I’m living in an integrated society a result of what these organizations actually do? If not, do they really do anything?

After much thought, I would argue that in both America and Ireland, they definitely do. However, they often don’t in the way that we would typically measure a successful endeavor; there is no tangible quantifier that one can use to monitor a society’s degree of integration. These institutions do what they can do, and maybe what they should be doing given this fact. However, while ‘gaining national recognition’ may be necessary to become a more effective societal integrative factor, groups like this must ensure that milestone goals (such as this) don’t become the goal. To be frank, I am of the opinion that the most important tool for integration is time. Just as I was born into a fairly integrated society, my children will perhaps be born into one that would be considered even more integrated, and so the cycle would continue. However, in addition to the factor of time, Ireland does need the institutions it currently has in place to significantly catalyze the process. Without groups that advocate for “integration,” we would not be forced to face issues surrounding sensitive subjects such as this, and the clock would move at a much slower rate, as opposed to its utmost potential.

Race in Ireland

Diverse American university group reacts to racial issues in Ireland
By Christine Delp

An Indian-American, a black-American, a Chinese-American, a Pakistani-Indian-American, a Belizean American, and three white Americans all walk into a bar.

It’s not the beginning of a joke. It’s the common reality of eight American students from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who are all part of the same Duke-sponsored eight-week summer program in Dublin. MischaVon-Derek Aikman, Kiran Bhai, Caroline Latta, Derek Lindsey, Anna Qiu, Anthony Pecoraro, Sahil Prasada, and I live together and work in different internships in Dublin pertaining to issues of immigration, multiculturalism, and integration. However, as we are a very diverse group, such issues have often followed us out of the workplace into the streets of Dublin.

“When you walk into a pub, when you walk into a restaurant, you definitely get the looks longer than you would in the US,” said Lindsey, 20, who identifies his ethnicity as black American. “I am always attuned to myself being a minority, even in the US. But it has been different here because we walk around as a diverse group in a place that isn’t as diverse. It doesn’t really make me that uncomfortable, it’s just something new for (some Irish).”

Prasada, 21, an Indian-American, has also noticed a change between his experience with his race in America and Ireland. “I’m not really judged that much in America. There’s so many other Indians that there isn’t that much prejudice against Indians. Here I feel like I am judged more just because I am not Irish. But I don’t know if its because I’m not white or because I’m not Irish.”

Prasada cited an occasion where he might have had been treated differently in Ireland because of his race. “In Galway, we went to a club, and I got randomly searched, patted down, and they didn’t. Anthony (who is white) came and they just moved aside.

“But a lot of times it’s hard to tell because its so subtle.”

Qiu, 18, agrees. “I think its difficult to tell when something is negative and when something is out of curiosity,” said Qiu who was born in America to Chinese parents. “You never really know people’s intentions or exactly what they are thinking. And I like to see the good in people.”

Openly commenting on a person’s race in Ireland is also viewed as less offensive than it is in America.

“In the U.S. somebody that I just met at a pub wouldn’t call me chocolate rain. Or say I look like Tiger Woods. In the U.S. you would have to be pretty close to someone to say something like that,” said Lindsey.

Latta, 21, a white American, thinks many of these types of comments are part of a larger difference between acceptable Irish and American social customs. “People are just more blunt in Ireland. They are more willing to say things or ask you questions that would be perceived as really rude in America.” Latta believes the Irish are less sensitive than Americans about other topics besides race, such as politics and religion.

Bhai, 20, who is Pakistani-Indian-American, attributes any less sensitivity about race in Ireland as a result of Ireland’s historically more homogenous ethnic population.

“People are more sensitive about race in America because they learned that it is actually a sensitive issue, and it can be hurtful to be really blunt and sometimes rude about someone’s race. I wouldn’t say (Americans) are ‘too’ sensitive, but we are relatively more sensitive than people in Ireland are.

“Sensitivity comes from experience and time, which Ireland really hasn’t had too much of compared to more diverse places like America.”