“The question is not what you look at, but what you see!”
Experiential learning with MIT ReACT
By Arbri Kopliku, MIT ReACT
I am Arbri Kopliku, an international first year at MIT currently studying remotely from Albania. I have always had a special interest in international and interethnic dialogue, and am so thankful to have found MIT ReACT as a unique way of integrating this passion of mine with a more tangible goal: proving that the challenge of refugee education can be very effectively addressed through first establishing a relationship of trust with the learners, and then working together to identify the most pressing obstacles in their path towards the successful careers that they deserve.
As you might be aware, crossing the Balkans is a key milestone in the journey of hundreds of refugees fleeing wars and political oppression generally from the Middle East. However, this step has recently proven more difficult due to the deep-rooted “tradition” of strengthening the borders between Balkan countries, a consequence of the agitated 20th-century relationships between them that eventually led to war. I have personally been involved in efforts to help bring down the conceptual walls first, through youth programs aiming to show that collaboration between young people is key to a successful integration of Balkan countries in the EU.
One such initiative was “YOUth Can Change the Future,” and it consisted of having 20 representatives from four countries of the Southeastern Balkans (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia) come together in a two-week series of workshops involving educational and community service activities in one city from each side of these borders. The results of the project might not be entirely obvious from a macro-perspective of international relations, but I can say for sure that wheels were set in motion in the individual and close-community level of interethnic understanding through appearances in talk shows, additional mini-workshops organized by the participants themselves, and varied propagations of such conclusions in a peer-to-peer fashion. Although a key goal of the project was to combat xenophobic ideas between Albanians and the people of former Yugoslavian countries, this concept is transferable to anyone willing to adapt and contribute to a community in which they might not feel very welcome. It now seems that, by promoting such a climate of acceptance, I have inadvertently contributed to facilitate the very difficult journey of people very much like myself, but who were forced to leave their own homes and communities for a safer future. I am very proud to continue serving this purpose with MIT ReACT, albeit in a more direct way.
As a former exchange student, I know what it feels like to have to adapt to so many new features of my surroundings in so little time, while keeping my goals and ambitions in clear sight. What significantly streamlined my experience, however, was a network of support to which I could turn with anything from a question about what follows next to the need for advice on how to best tackle a challenge I was facing. Being Program Assistant at MIT ReACT, it is my duty and immense pleasure to be of help whenever the cohort members express an interest to augment what they are learning from the program. The MIT ReACT Certificate in Computer Science packet touches on many facets of modern education, including academic and practical lessons on programming, resume-building, professional networking, and self-sustainability in the job market. This means that there are many areas where learners would like to take a deeper dive, and I am there to connect them with available resources or, as was the case last month, design our own workshops. I do not have a background in Computer and Data Science, but this makes it easier for me to put myself in the learners’ shoes when planning the content of workshops or even when deciding the upper limit on the amount of information that I can put on someone’s plate without threatening their productivity.
During the last three months, I have witnessed first-hand the bright motivation that guides the members of this amazing cohort towards becoming better human beings every single day. I got to read their short introductions, learn more about their countries of origin and their host communities, as well as their dreams and aspirations. I realize that someone can’t be rightfully represented by a mere document or short video, yet I have been so impressed by what the MIT ReACT learners have to offer that I can’t wait to get to know them better. I hope to learn more about what drove each of them towards their varied passions, as I am very sure that their examples can be so impactful on any of us, whether we are refugees ourselves, know someone who is, or are just trying to understand what features make a person worthy of admiration.
The ReACT program allows me the opportunity to contribute my time and effort to solving a global challenge on an individual level: empowering refugees and displaced persons to build the careers they want and realize their potential. By setting such great examples our students will get their voices heard and pave the way for others to follow, but it all starts with such smaller-scale engagements as the MIT Computer Science Certificate Program.