TU student travels abroad to research Syrian refugees

Julia Westbrook has had her fair share of international experiences. Before transferring to TU, she studied abroad with TCC in Japan. Now, she’s going from Denmark to Costa Rica in an effort to conduct international research.

“I’m currently studying with Semester at Sea,” Westbrook explained. “Through this program I live and study on a ship and have sailed through Germany and now Greece. Tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Italy, then Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.”

Westbrook’s journey abroad isn’t just a sightseeing trip — her end goal is a research project about the influx of Syrian refugees in Europe. She had had an interest in and concern for the plight of Syrian refugees for a while when she heard about the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge, or TURC.

“As soon as I heard about [TURC], I began exploring ways that I could learn about and serve refugees. Dr. Foley in the Global Education office gave me the idea to focus on the policy aspect of the situation, and my faculty mentor Dr. Foster helped me formulate my “game plan” to take my work overseas for some hands on experience,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook’s project is entitled “Comparative European Asylum Policies in Light of the Syrian Refugee Situation.” It attempts to determine the differences in asylum policies between European countries during the recent influx of Syrian refugees. She’s currently focusing on on Denmark and Germany.

“The overarching goal is to determine the cultural and societal factors behind these asylum policy differences,” Westbrook clarified. “Essentially, my research asks the question: what makes countries more or less tolerant or accepting or refugees or foreigners?”

In the European cities she has visited thus far, Westbrook has interviewed ten professionals representing nonprofits, government agencies and law practices that serve refugees in an attempt to get to the heart of this question.

Challenges in Westbrook’s studies thus far have included reaching out to people for interviews. “Getting people to talk to me was a challenge at first. I reached out to over thirty people for interviews. I had to present my research thus far, prove credibility and legitimacy via email and keep their interest throughout the logistical planning portion of scheduling the interview. About one fifth of the original people I contacted ended up working out, but I began to make connections and build a network [within] these communities.” She also comments that the week she spent gathering primary sources from interviews was like “the ‘finals week’ of my TURC project.” However, the hard work was worth it.

“I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned from each of the individuals I worked with. Some of the people helping me even knew each other from collaborating in the field, and they would give me advice as to how to handle certain agencies,” Westbrook said.

Representing the U.S. abroad has also been a unique challenge. Westbrook explained that “every single person that I’ve interviewed in Europe (10 people now) has asked me about the United States election and our candidates.”

“I’m learning more and more how important it is to be able to present your culture and society to others when traveling,” she added. “It has been challenging to explain the United States to Europeans during this strange time, and I advise anyone traveling from now until November to prepare for a discussion about American politics.”

Westbrook is emphatic about her research experience and would absolutely recommend it to other TU students. “TURC has given me the opportunity to submerge myself in a topic that I’m passionate about in a productive and professional way,” she enthused. “The University of Tulsa is unique in the way it supports undergraduate research and I encourage my fellow students to pursue it.”

When asked if she’d like to include a message to TU students back home, Westbrook said, “I want the TU community to know that the United States has a lot to learn about how to treat refugees and foreigners. Also, research does not have to be just writing a paper!”

Post Author: tucollegian

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