Why I Think Face-to-Face Encounters Are the Way to Challenge our Students’ Mindset

Daniela Zunzer Articles

 “Don’t say globally something is good or bad, simply have an open mind.”

The sentence above is from Daniel Ocbe, a refugee from Eritrea, who spent a day at our school in June 2016. Daniel’s talks confirmed to me the immense value of face to face encounters for citizenship education.

It was in May that Daniel Ocbe contacted me via EuroClio Director Jonathan Even-Zohar, who had met him at a United against Racism conference in Torino, Italy. At our following meeting in Zurich Daniel impressed me from the first moment with his extraordinary strong will and his determination on one side and being such a kind and friendly and open minded person on the other side. Living in Switzerland now for a bit less than three years, he achieved a lot in this time (he speaks German really well!), but also has challenges ahead (the next big one is to find a place for an apprenticeship).

He accepted the invitation to come to our school, where he gave a presentation to two 10th grade classes. He talked about the current political situation in Eritrea, a country not very much is known about here, although there is a large group of Eritrean refugees in Switzerland. Then he talked about his escape from Eritrea via Sudan, Libya, the Mediterranean to Italy and finally to Switzerland. The students asked a lot of questions about his perception of Switzerland, about experiences of racism in Switzerland and a lot of other topics. They reacted very open and positive from the first moment on, so the planned time was over almost too fast.

Where do I see the value of those encounters?

For me it is crucial that we either go out of school a lot more, travel with youngsters AND meet people (travelling alone is not the point), travel to places they would not go on their own, expand their horizons, challenge their mindset by confronting them with different positions, make them familiar with experiences that are not part of their everyday life.
If travelling is difficult, then bringing people to school is also a big step of bringing “real life” to school and getting out of this very small school world.

Living in a time with ever more virtual communication, it is crucial for those youngsters to actually meet people – face to face. “You need to feel it, to see it, to touch it” – that is still an important point for me.

It is something completely different if we are talking about things or persons (like for example Eritrean refugees), or if we have direct encounters and talk with those persons. The longer I teach the more I think that face to face contacts are not replacable by anything – also not by virtual communication.

Meeting people that can be positive role models by living positive values and attitudes can be so important for youngsters.

Of course the personality of the person invited is also an important part. Students need to be able to really get in touch with that person. Talking about values like openmindedness or reconciliation for example, is only credible to the students, if the person lives those values. Therefore he or she needs to be an authentic person and whenever this is given, there is never a real problem with students, who are very sensitive to being authentic and credible.

The not always easy task is to find these persons, but having found them, it is no big job at all, bringing them to school. In case you might never have tried it, I would just like to encourage you to do it.

About the Author
Daniela Zunzer was born in Germany and grew up in Germany and Switzerland. She studied history, geography and social anthropology in Zurich and Berlin. She has a master’s degree from Humboldt-University in Berlin in history (1996). After some years as a researcher at the Humboldt-University, she is teaching history in a high school in Fribourg / Switzerland since 2001 (grades 10-13).

Nominations open for UNITED Network Conference

From 26 until 31 October 2016 UNITED for Intercultural Action, the largest pan-European anti-racist network, is organising a Network Conference in Ohrid, FYR Macedonia. UNITED states that “our lives as a community depend on how we handle cultural, social and ethnic differences, and make strength out of diversity. Our success as nations depends on how we can learn from the experiences of our ancestors and not repeat the same mistakes again and again. When we select our leaders, we must pick them carefully, avoiding those that wish to set segments of society against each other, or appear to be fighting against imaginary or selected enemies instead of working for the best interests of all. As societies, we must come up with better visions and strategies for Living Together, and learn to accept that although this is not always easy, it is necessary.” Through their conference UNITED aims to:

–      understand the ethos of conflict through case studies and personal testimonies;
–      share best practices and practical tools to be used in the reconciliation process;
–      provide guidelines for NGOs on how to work on reconciliation;
–      initiate joint actions and pave the way for future cooperation;
–      join the campaign activity planned for the upcoming International Day Against Fascism and Antisemitism (9 November)
–      design the focus of the upcoming European Action Week Against Racism in 2017.

The conference programme will combine debates, workshops, sharing of experiences and local situations, simulations, political cafés and many other methods for learning from practical experience. Selected participants will also be invited to attend an OSCE-ODIHR training session on hate crime.

This link will directly take to you to the Expression of interest Form.
The deadline for nominations is 15th August 2016 – 24:00.

UNITED for Intercultural Action Conference “Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe”

On April 22 the Annual Conference of UNITED for Intercultural Action, the European Network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees, will take place near Torino, Italy. This year the Conferences focuses on migration in Europea, which has been a part of European history for ages. Somehow there is a gap between the mainstream narrative a
nd the hard facts on migration and asylum in Europe. This Conference aims to figure just how big this gap is and how to understand and challenge this narrative. To participate in the Conference there was first an application procedure. EuroClio nominated our director Jonathan Even-Zohar and he will now represent our Association in Italy.

For more information on the event or programme check this website.



“Deepening the discussion is the only way out of radicalisation.” Interview with EuroClio’s Jonathan Even-Zohar

At Euroclio we are promoting a type of history teaching that promotes peace and democracy. The way history teaching can do this is very complex… Jonathan Even-Zohar.

UNITED for Intercultural Action, is a European Network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees. UNITED’s vision is one of peaceful coexistence and intercultural respect all over the world. Their goal is intercultural understanding and cooperation.

UNITED for Intercultural Action, is holding a conference in Torino, Italy from 22 to 27 April 2016, 'Moving stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe'.  

We need a paradigm shift in how we narrate our own past; we need to break with the tradition of focusing history education on the telling the stories of nations and states... Jonathan Even-Zohar. 

In the context of UNITED’s upcoming conference, had an interview with Jonathan Even-Zohar, EuroClio’s director, who gave his opinion on the refugee crisis, and the role of historians and history teachers in challenging the prevalent narrative on migration.

If you want to read the complete interview click here.

For more information on UNITED, visit their website, Twitter and Facebook.

UNITED Conference on Racism, 22-27 April 2016

Jaco Stoop Partners

UNITED for Intercultural Action, the European Network against nationalism, racism, fascism and in support of migrants and refugees invites you to their conference on ‘Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe’ from 22-27 April 2016 in Torino, Italy. Representatives of NGOs and grassroots organisations from all over Europe will spend five days reviewing different perspectives on the situation of migration and asylum in Europe, exploring various tools and methods for challenging narratives on migrants and refugees, sharing best practices and getting to know other activists and organisations.

The official call for applications will be published mid-January on the UNITED Network Conference Facebook page, the UNITED website and through E-News.