Michael Lubelczyk ’17 with his soccer team

Sitting in Stuttgart Airport on August 1, 2016, awaiting a flight back to Boston, I reflected upon my time in Germany and I wrote the following: “Whether people are from Germany, Italy, America, or Iraq, we’re all about the same. Yes, we have different experiences, and we have different traditions, but we are people. People first. And that will always unite us more than any difference of culture or religion could divide us. I loved learning that this semester because it gave me hope for the world — hope that we can recognize these similarities and stop with the foolish xenophobia and useless hatred.”

Over the course of my semester in Germany, from March to August 2016, terrorist attacks across the globe were nearly ubiquitous. The world was seemingly in a time of crisis, and the forces of terror and evil appeared to trump those of morality and love. Despite this, I emerged from my semester in Germany with hope for the world, and I am indebted to Germany for that hope.

My time in Germany was marked by cultural discovery. Every Sunday, six of my friends and I would go to the park to play pick-up soccer. Our team consisted of two Americans, a German, a New Zealander, an Italian, a Brazilian, and a Mexican. While many of our competitors were German, there was always a team of Syrian refugees present. Many of them had arrived in Germany in February and were only beginning to learn German, so it was very difficult to communicate with them at first, but by June, we were able to have detailed conversations about their life experiences. It was inspirational to see how quickly language can change a person’s life. Our love for the game of soccer brought us together and our subsequent conversations taught us how similar we all were, despite the stark differences in our backgrounds. After games, we often enjoyed döner kebabs together.

On Mondays throughout the semester, several fellow students and I spent time with young refugees from Iraq and Syria. With these five 12-year-olds, we played hide-and-seek, built forts, and played on the swings at a local playground. At different times throughout the semester, we brought the kids to our favorite gelato places around town and took them to the local pool to teach them how to swim. I will never forget the bonds that I made with these children, whose lives were so vastly different from my own.

My experiences in Germany give me hope for the world in such turbulent times, and it is only in a country like Germany that these experiences are possible. While nations across Europe have been hesitant to accept refugees from the Middle East, Angela Merkel’s policies have embraced those in need. Germany’s acceptance of cultural differences, among other things, has encouraged me to go back to Germany next year to teach English to German teens through a Fulbright Grant. I am boundlessly excited and grateful for the opportunity to return.

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