How Two CU Denver Students Became “Heroes” in Berlin
It seems that 2016 has not been an easy year for anyone. In fact, it’s been so noticeably bad that a quick Google search of the contiguous numbers “2016” yields results such as: Slate’s, “Is 2016 the Worst Year in History“, The Atlantic’s, “How to Deal with 2016 Despair“, and Foreign Policy’s, “2016: The Theory Behind a Very Bad Year (And It’s Only Half Over)“.
With these headlines competing for the most clicks, views, or some other version of media traffic, it can feel like the world is crumbling apart. Then people like University of Colorado Denver Political Science majors Alexander Peck and Max Dalton seem to put those fragile pieces back together.
For the past two months Peck and Dalton have been studying in Germany as part of CU Denver’s Sustainability in Berlin study abroad program led by Dr. Christoph Stefes. Throughout their time abroad, the pair took part in professional, cross-cultural internships with a non-profit center for those in need of aid named Unionhilfswerk in a troubled part of eastern Berlin.
The center is home to a variety of people: ranging from children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and temporarily to some of the estimated one million refugees Germany has opened its doors to in the past few years. The majority of these refugees fled to Germany from the war-torn areas of Syria.
Staff and volunteers at Union Hilfs Werk are tasked with perhaps one of the toughest jobs possible: to normalize life for their residents. That kind of responsibility might be enough to scare people away, but not Peck and Dalton. They dove right in, and when October came around, the duo spearheaded planning a Halloween party for the local residents that some would say could rival even Heidi Klum’s annual bash.
“Integration is an important part of the work that is done at Unionhilfswerk and the people who work/ volunteer there try very hard to give the refugees living under their roof a normal life. In addition to the many day to day things they do, the centre also holds parties and festivals on major German holidays to help the refugees feel welcome and included”, said Peck. ” I told our supervisor in passing that Halloween was my favorite holiday back home so she thought it would be great to not only have a party for the children, but expose them to a little bit of American culture. They gave us a room, a date, and 400 Euros, and then left us to our own devices to plan and prepare.“
That’s when one of Germany’s top news outlets took note. The Berlin-based newspaper, the B.Z., is one of Germany’s oldest and popular media outlets. Established in 1877, it boasts an online following in the hundreds of thousands, prints 100,000 copies of the paper daily, and has a broad reach regionally. The BZ dedicates a section of its publication to local Helden – or, in English, “Heroes”. After hearing about the time and work invested by Peck and Dalton in planning the party, the editors decided to choose the pair as their next “Heroes”.
On November 2nd, Peck and Dalton were named as B.Z.’s designated “Heroes”. Although many think that 2016 will go down in history as a rather bad year, it’s during these “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad” times that we need someone to look up to – heroes like Peck and Dalton – most. They teach us how to look beyond ourselves; about empathy, hard work, courage, and perhaps most importantly of all, they teach us that we too wield the power to do good in the world. Many CU Denver students study abroad to change their own lives. For Peck and Dalton, it became much more — about making a difference in transforming the lives of others.
Visit online to learn more about Global Education: Study Abroad programs at the University of Colorado Denver.
Are you a CU Denver student who is considering studying, volunteering, or doing research abroad? Remember to pre-register online or contact the Office of Global Education (OGE) at [email protected] or 303.315.2288. You can also contact OGE to find out more about service learning, research, and internship programs abroad – and have a great trip!