Zahlavi

Summer Refugee Research Practicum at the Institute of Ethnology

Summer Refugee Research Practicum at the Institute of Ethnology

18. 07. 2022

Afghan, Ukrainian, and US students convene at the Institute of Ethnology, CAS in Prague

In the last year, the world has been witness to two seismic geopolitical crises: the Taliban overthrow of the elected government in Afghanistan and the ongoing military invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Both of these events have had enormous political and humanitarian consequences, and both have created a tsunami of refugees seeking safe haven in Europe. Among the thousands of refugees who fled Afghanistan are students from the American University of Afghanistan whose campus was taken over by the Taliban after they entered Kabul last August. In recent months, many Ukrainian students who left homes last fall to pursue their studies in Western Europe have found that they can no longer return to the cities and towns from which they came because of the Russian invasion, and they are now facing a future in which they too are exiles from their homeland.  

The Summer Refugee Research Practicum began as part of a larger effort to keep the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) alive after the Taliban occupied its Kabul campus and sent hundreds of its students fleeing to the West. Many of these students ended up as refugees in European countries, and AUAF administrators, trustees, and faculty have endeavored to keep the university’s students, both those who remain in Afghanistan and those who evacuated the country, engaged in their education, and to this end, the university has managed to keep its students enrolled through online classes that are free to all of its students.  

In addition to the existing curriculum, AUAF has also established new courses that respond directly to the situation that Afghan students now face. Many of these courses involve partnerships with educational institutions in the West. One of the courses that has developed as a result of these collaborative efforts is the Summer Refugee Research Practicum, a month-long experiential course that is providing an opportunity for Afghan students from AUAF to join with Ukrainian students from Central European University in Vienna and LCC International University in Lithuania, along with students from Williams College to learn the basics of ethnographic fieldwork and documentary filmmaking while documenting the experiences of refugees who fled to escape violence and persecution in their home countries.

The course is being conducted during July 2022 and includes 20 students who have been divided into 7 teams, with an Afghan, Ukrainian, and Williams student in each team. After a week of orientation and training at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, the teams have sent to the Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Turkey. During two weeks of fieldwork, each team is producing short video documentaries on different aspects of the refugee experience. Faculty advisors for the program are in daily communication with the teams in order to provide both technical assistance related to filmmaking and advice on how to manage the situations that arise while conducting on-the-ground research, as well as the ethical questions that arise when working with vulnerable populations.

At the conclusion of the two-week fieldwork phase of the program, students will reconvene at the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. There, with the supervision and assistance of their faculty advisors, they will edit and screen the films they have produced. Plans will also be developed for making these works available to a larger audience through a website and a documentary film.

Sponsorship for this program comes from Williams College, the American University of Afghanistan, Central European University, and the Open Society University Network. Additional support has been provided by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.