Tessa Chatagnon, Council on Business & Society Communication Team Coordinator, creates an original event to create a bridge between cultures
Every October, the ESSEC campuses at Cergy (France), Paris and Singapore see the whole ESSEC community commit itself to Involvement Week, a six-day event highlighting the various forms of involvement within the school and encouraging the building of links between the ESSEC community – students, professors, alumni, staff, partners and the local community.
This year Tessa Chatagnon, Council Communication Team Coordinator, was asked to build a week’s worth of activities focusing around the theme of international relations and understanding, ESSEC Open World. One of the highlights of this endeavour was a special workshop endorsed and opened by Dean Jean-Michel Blanquer, and dedicated to bringing together stakeholders around the burning theme of migrants and their escape from the hardships of their homelands for Europe.
An original aspect of this event baptised My Life in 10: stories from migrants and refugees was the setting up of a circle of sharing. Four guests from the recent migrant influx to emergency accommodation near the Cergy campus were invited as well as two staff members from ESSEC who had, in their childhood, also arrived in France from war zones in Laos and Iran respectively. Also present were representatives from leading NGOs, local government and academia, with a pubic made up of ESSEC students, faculty and staff. When listening to the speakers – whether from the viewpoint of welcomer or newcomer – it soon became evident that three key factors in the issue from a western perspective were our understanding, our fears, and our communication.
The first, our understanding, is hardly surprising: most of what we comprehend about migration on a massive scale, most notably from Syria, has come from repeated items in our national media. We see our politicians and national personalities give their view. We see the reactions of the population. We get the viewpoint from the migrants themselves, from both inside the refugee camps and on their perilous journeys to safety. But what is surprising is that the issue of migration is nothing new. Throughout the twentieth century, France saw many cultures arriving from various zones of conflict – Armenia, Russia, Spain, Algeria, south-east Asia; and also those escaping economic difficulties – Portugal, Italy, Africa. So why should the same fears, and at times behaviours related to those fears, express themselves today?
What My Life in 10: stories from migrants and refugees did was important: very simply, it brought us, those who usually have a media-influenced vision of the situation, into real, face to face contact with both the migrants of today and those who arrived hoping for a better life in Europe twenty or more years ago. Very naturally, when listening to young migrants – in this case young men, some of whom interrupted their studies to embark on the journey across the Mediterranean to mainland Europe – the fears dissipate very quickly. Very quickly, too, there is an awareness that migrants are usually talked to and not with. The reality of their plight, of the dangers in their homeland and the adversity of the journey they took, does indeed evoke sympathy and understanding. But perhaps a greater awareness is that these people resemble, evidently but nonetheless remarkably, ourselves: they have hopes, dreams, needs much like any of ours and the overriding message we understand is that people, wherever they are in the world, and from whatever the culture or nationality, religion or belief, generally and in a very vast majority all strive for the same things and with a same set of universal values common to all despite their difference: education, a home, security, work, a loved one, family, a minimum of comfort, peace. In short, an ensemble that constitutes what we might call happiness.
The initiative will not end there. Following the event, ESSEC’s Anjulee Hurburn, PhD student, and Hugues Derycke and Yann Kerninon in charge of BBA field experience, wish to develop further contact between students and migrants with a view to setting up learning initiatives. The NGOs present at the event – L’Ordre de Malte and La Cimade – have also committed to working with each other and fostering initiatives with the people they help, most notably via round tables.
In putting into place at ESSEC what the Council on Business & Society, on a wider scale, strives for in its international forums, Tessa Chatagnon provided the occasion for difference to meet, for communication to take place, for fears to dispel, and for awareness to transform powerfully into understanding.
For further details and inquiries, contact Tessa Chatagnon at: email@example.com
Article by Tom Gamble, Council on Business & Society
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