July 25, 2016

Alumnus Helps German Students Connect Communities with Refugees

Joshua Kriesmann has truly embraced what it means to be a global citizen, making it his mission to foster greater cultural understanding in what can sometimes feel like an increasingly divisive world. His current passion for promoting diversity and inclusion in his home country of Germany was initially triggered by his participation in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program (CBYX) in 2014 when he spent a year living with an American host family and attending an American high school. Joshua credits his Taiwanese-American host family, who lived in the “Vietnamese district” of Oklahoma City, and his multi-ethnic American high school peers with instilling in him the value of multiculturalism and open-mindedness. Through his year in the United States, he witnessed firsthand that different cultures can live together and mutually benefit each other.
Joshua returned from the United States armed with more than just a greater understanding of the value of cultural awareness. “My year in the United States was a triggering movement that not only made me curious about culture, but also created a strong passion for social involvement,” Joshua stated. Indeed, Joshua would draw upon his newfound passion for global understanding and his belief in the power of young people to create positive change in order to found the non-profit student-led NGO, “Schüler Treffen Flüchtlinge e.V.” (Students Meet Refugees). Recognizing the challenges of the influx of refugees into Germany and the resulting problems that arose in his community, Joshua took the initiative to establish a sustainable institution that tackles these issues. 


Exchange Alumni Member of the Month Joshua Kriesmann and a colleague Exchange Alumni Member of the Month Joshua Kriesmann and a colleague
The aim of the NGO is to foster cultural understanding between refugees and German school students through social, athletic, or informational projects and events. Joshua credits his time on the CBYX program and being a foreigner in a new land with giving him a better understanding of the sum of challenges refugees face upon arriving in Germany. The events and projects organized by the NGO bring refugees and students together so that the refugees can practice their Germany language skills and learn about German culture. The NGO also organizes donation campaigns and tries to help individual refugees overcome bureaucratic difficulties. Joshua’s hard work and exemplary efforts with this NGO have been recognized on multiple occasions, including by the U.S. Ambassador to Germany John Emerson, who invited Joshua and 25 refugees to a backyard BBQ at the Ambassador’s residence. 
In addition to his work with his NGO, Joshua has continued to be an active leader in the alumni community. He is not only an active member of the local CBYX alumni association, but he also helps support current German and American CBYX participants. Additionally, he has taken his alumni activities to a global scale. In February 2016, Joshua was one of three German participants in the Alumni TIES program in Zagreb, Croatia which brought together forty exchange alumni from Europe and Eurasia to discuss challenges and opportunities related to refugee and migration issues in the region. Joshua volunteered to lead the Alumni Action Corps, which launched at the seminar. The Alumni Action Corps is intended to help alumni lend their skills where they matter most. As the international coordinator, Joshua works with a team of young alumni from across the continent to design, build, and launch this new platform. 
As an additional result of his experience at Alumni TIES, Joshua is currently organizing one of his most ambitious projects yet: Aktion Zukunft. Along with other Alumni TIES participants and an alumnus of the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship (BFTF) program, Joshua is organizing a train-the-trainer seminar for 30 young Germans. The goal of the program is to relay knowledge that the founders have gained as a result of their engagement, and to motivate German youth to implement their own refugee integration projects. With support from the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Joshua will successfully empower school students to support hundreds of refugees all over the country. 
Joshua’s CBYX experience and his work with refugees since have taught him, in his own words, that “being a global citizen means that we are part of more than one culture. It means that we are welcome in the homes of families in not only one, but many countries. It means that we have friends not only where we grew up but all over the world. It also means taking pride in our own country as well as those around the world  What this means is that we have a duty as global citizens to ensure our actions have a positive impact worldwide.” Joshua’s commitment to appreciating the beauty of diversity and his personal pledge to act as a global citizen will surely continue to have a positive impact on his community and the world.