The Female Refugee Experience in Central Ohio

About Me

Who am I? 

My name is Danielle Wollerman. I am a third year Ohio State University student majoring in International Studies with a focus on development. I am also a member of the International Affairs Scholars program. Additionally, I am a Student Assistant at the Kuhn Honors and Scholars House and a fellow for Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS). 

Is now the right time for research?

When offered the chance to conduct this research, I was hesitant. Can I successfully do it during a pandemic? Am I being unfair to essential workers or people going through a hard time (either by bothering them or not talking to them at all)? I had previously planned to use my STEP funds ($2,000) to aid in the expenses of the project. Would I be able to do my best without the money? I made my decision to continue with the project when the Undergraduate Research Library Fellowship informed me they may not be able to fund my research next summer. I decided it is better to do my best with what I have now than to do nothing. 

Without the funding of the Undergraduate Research Library Fellowship—and without the support of my advisor, Hilary Bussell—I would not have been able to complete this project. Additionally, this fellowship offered me the opportunity to work full-time from home, which allowed me to support myself and keep my family safe.

Why am I doing this project? 

I am passionate about the rights of women and immigrants/refugees. While these groups of people have amazing stories to tell, their voices are often suppressed. I want to do my part in supporting these communities and making their voices heard. I developed a passion for this subject through personal, academic, and professional experiences. It began in the Bahamas, where I lived for a year when I was 12 years old. I moved there when my mom got a job as a physical education teacher at a private school. My mom’s colleagues came from all over the world and introduced me to traditional meals in Bahamian, Guatemalan, and French homes. I lived in a middle class neighborhood, but I also traveled through impoverished areas and had sleepovers at Bahamian mansions. This exposure caused me to think deeply about my privilege and the experiences of other people. I noticed how lifestyles and opportunities varied across different areas, and I witnessed how foreigners received better treatment than Bahamians. In addition to instilling a deep appreciation of the world around me, living abroad as a child gave me firsthand experience in navigating and identifying sensitive cross-cultural and social issues.

My passion continued to develop as I became friends with many immigrants and children of immigrants who took me into their homes and exposed me to their cultures. These interactions have allowed me to become more self-aware and respectful of cultural norms. For example, one of my friend’s family is from Egypt, and another’s family is from Eritrea/Ethiopia. Once, they had a discussion about how Egyptians are not considered African and how Eritreans/Ethiopians are considered more European. They spoke of the various ways this impacted their self-perceptions. This offered me insight into how privilege is observed in other societies. The intersection of race, gender and ethnicity influence privilege and identities in manners more extensive and intricate than I expected. In my experience, it is best to listen and understand others’ perspectives before you speak about areas with which you are unfamiliar. By taking part in this project, I have gained a deeper understanding of the issues and perspectives of immigrants and refugees.

My academic career has also greatly contributed to the development of my passion on this topic. During my time at Ohio State University, I have had many amazing opportunities to learn more about multiculturalism and the immigrant experience. This includes attending events like Africa Night, Raised on Injera, Human Rights in Eritrea, and Performing Afghanistan. In addition, I have attended conferences like the International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education where I learned about different methods used for conflict resolution all around the world. These methods helped ease tensions between immigrants and natives in addition to creating new immigrants when governments severely oppressed their opposition. These opportunities have given me new avenues to explore inside the topic of immigration. 

Professionally, I have been able to explore working with immigrants and refugees through my involvement with Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS). With CRIS, I facilitate an art class at the Bhutanese-Nepali Community Center for elementary school aged refugee and immigrant children. So far, we have painted a mural, decorated pumpkins, created collages, and made winter art. I am also an Art Intern, which entails painting murals and assisting in coordinating the involvement of volunteers assisting in the project. Through these experiences I have solidified my desire to pursue a career in this area. 

In my career, I want to not only focus on what I can do to help refugees and immigrants, but also focus on what they want and how my actions affect them. I want to avoid cultural appropriation or acting like a white savior. If my actions belittle or hurt those I work with, I will not be fulfilling my goals. By completing this research project, I developed a better understanding of the perspectives of refugees. This insight will help me as I continue my professional journey. 


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