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Mission to serve: Putting ethical theory into practice

Andrea Hentschel was among a group of students from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology to put ethical theory into practice by aiding Syrian refugees on a study abroad trip to Athens, Greece.

Andrea Hentschel was among a group of students from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology to put ethical theory into practice by aiding Syrian refugees on a study abroad trip to Athens, Greece.

Andrea Hentschel, an online student in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Business Psychology Ph.D. Program, works with families in crisis every day in her job at the Safe Families for Children program at Bethany Christian Services in Traverse City, Mich.

But what she saw working with refugee families on a December 2015 study abroad trip to Greece transformed her view of what it means to struggle against all odds for survival.

Making an impact on ground in Greece

“My concept of a refugee changed when I saw a family trying to feed their baby in a high chair, together at the shelter,” says Hentschel, who joined Assistant Professor Michael Davison and 11 other students from The Chicago School during the 10-day trip. “I imagined this family crossing in one of those small inflatable rafts, with a baby of about 8 months old—through the night, the wind, possibly rain, to go to a place that probably didn’t want them there.”

The study abroad trip to Athens, Greece was a component of a seven-week online ethics course at The Chicago School. Partnering with the Greece-based ARSIS, or Association for the Social Support of Youth, students gained valuable hands-on experience assisting this group of refugees, most of them flooding into the country from Syria.

Hentschel says the opportunity to work up close with this often misunderstood population opened her eyes to the reality of the refugee crisis both in America and abroad.

“So much of what’s in the media has distorted our perception. We see men, primarily absent of women and children, and we wonder about the credibility of their intentions,” she explains. “We draw on the differences and the fear that is streamed to us to create a story. We don’t stop to think about the struggles, the sameness, and the families trying to make it through a day—just like we do.”

Dr. Davison says the study abroad site was chosen to demonstrate just what Hentschel and the other students experienced—the effects of unethical behavior and the human cost of these actions.

“Students were challenged to reflect upon their individual beliefs, personal biases, and judgments related to psychology practices and how their beliefs could impact individuals in a culture other than their own,” he says.

A global crisis

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 800,000 refugees fled to Greece in 2015 as a result of the Middle East conflict. Hentschel and the other student volunteers worked with local social workers and psychologists to review lists of what was needed to serve the refugees living in the 50-person shelter and at makeshift camps set up in the area.

For a course designed to cover the status of current ethical standards in psychology in the context of ancient Greek principles, the experience working with ARSIS could not have been more appropriate.

“Many of us here in the U.S. presume we are given an accurate reflection of the refugee crisis, but what we see is far from the truth,” Hentschel says. “Perhaps the greatest thing this trip encouraged me to do is to see what is really happening and stop making judgments based on what we see in the media.”

What she and the other students from The Chicago School saw in Greece is a country that struggles economically, far more than the U.S., and how the Greek people are responding to the crisis. Not with fear, but with compassion and empathy.

“They take the family in, feed the family, and help the family,” she adds. “That is the right and ethical thing to do.”

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