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Casey Wanna ’17.5 has won the 2017 Award for Academic Achievement Abroad from the Forum on Education Abroad.

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Middlebury Student Receives International Education Award for Syrian Refugee Work

November 15, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – In celebration of International Education Week, the Forum on Education Abroad has announced that Cassandra Wanna ’17.5 is one of two students to receive its 2017 Award for Academic Achievement Abroad. The winners will present their work at the forum’s 14th annual conference in Boston on March 23, 2018.

Wanna, a psychology major and Arabic minor, spent a year studying at the Middlebury-C.V. Starr School in Amman, Jordan, where she completed an internship in the Azraq refugee camp with CARE Jordan. While there, she conducted extensive interviews with Syrian refugees about their experiences in the camp and explored the topic of early marriage among daughters of families living in the camp. She titled the resulting project “Life in Blue: Perspectives of Syrian Refugees in Azraq Camp.”

Wanna’s faculty advisor at the University of Jordan’s Center for Women’s Studies, Dr. Abeer Dababneh, said, “Cassandra’s original research truly added to current knowledge about the lives of refugees in Jordan, particularly those of refugee women.”

“I feel honored to be selected for this award,” said Wanna, “however, I am even more privileged to have the opportunity to share with a larger audience the stories and lives of the amazing individuals in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met such amazing individuals, and I look forward to having the forum meet them as well.”

A native of Macon, Georgia, Wanna’s interest in the fate of refugees was deeply personal. Her father, who is Lebanese, was a refugee in France at the age of 16 to escape the Lebanese Civil War.

“It took most of my childhood to unravel his experience—the trials, the racism, the hardship,” Wanna said. “As a result, I was interested in pursuing this work to learn about his experience and my heritage.”

Prior to her studies abroad, Wanna worked at the University of Vermont’s Connecting Cultures clinic, which provides psychological, social, and legal services to refugees and asylum seekers who have survived torture and trauma and have been resettled in Vermont.

“When I studied abroad, I knew I wanted to see a refugee camp and share in that experience,” she said. “I needed to know what the environment was like, as many of our clients have come from such an environment, and it was important for me to understand how the international community was handling the refugee crisis. When I was able to secure a position in Azraq Camp with CARE, I decided to stay in Jordan for the full year instead of going to Paris in the spring as planned.”

In her blog, Life in Blue, Wanna documented much of her experience at the refugee camp. Following is an excerpt from her introductory text:

“But nothing prepares you for a gathering of over 55,000 individuals in the middle of the desert. Nothing prepares you for the thousands of rows of tiny, white, shiny metal shelters that claw into the brown, scorching, turbulent skin of the sand. Nothing prepares you for the hundreds of sunburned individuals clad in the same Saudi green jumpsuit and plastic Nike sliders that came from the donation truck three months earlier. Nothing prepares you for the browned faces and dusty cheekbones that are planted with watery eyes gazing at you for help, for conversation, for curiosity, for something to do.”

Reporting by Stephen Diehl; Photo by Robert Keren