Cadet enters new territory
by Cadet Angie Gabella
When Olivia Perry-Smith received a Citadel Summer Scholarship to attend Oxford’s Wadam College Refugee Studies Center in England, she had no idea that she would be the program’s youngest member and the only American.
Perry-Smith learned about the program through Dr. Jack Rhodes, founder and director of The Citadel Honors Program. Two years ago, Rhodes helped Cadet Timothy Anderson become the first undergraduate to participate in the refugee program. The program is no ordinary summer school class; it concentrates on refugee studies and forced migration, and participants are usually senior and middle managers in governmental or private organizations.
Because Anderson was the first undergraduate to be admitted to the program, Perry-Smith did not think another Citadel cadet would be accepted so soon. Already excelling as a student in the English Honors Program, she had been looking for a unique opportunity.
With more than 70 people discussing refugee affairs in places such as Rwanda and Cambodia, Perry-Smith found the three weeks in July thought-provoking and enlightening. Participants were split into small groups of 12, giving everyone the opportunity to discuss differences and conduct arguments one-on-one. Daily lectures lasted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and participants were required to make a 10-minute presentation on a refugee topic; Perry Smith wrote on Rwandan genocide.
It was one of my most depressing days ever,” Perry-Smith said about researching the topic. “Reading about all these things that happened and how the world basically just turned its back.”
Watching a video of the Rwandan genocide, Perry-Smith saw neighbors killing neighbors with machetes, plows and any sharp tool that could be used as a weapon. She directed the horror and anger she felt into her project, determined to devise a way to help these people who were forced out of their country.
Perry-Smith spent much of her free time talking with the other participants. She spent her mornings running to stay in shape and to see more of Oxford, giving her the opportunity to visit museums and explore the market in the afternoons. Her experience with the food was surprising. She expected tea and pastries. Instead she found, Indian, Lebanese and Thai restaurants, all of which she tried for the first time.
Initially, Perry-Smith was hesitant to voice her opinions. “It was the first time people actually challenged what I was saying instead of agreeing and adding on,” she said. “At some point in life you begin to realize that you have to be able to defend your beliefs and it’s a learning experience.”
Perry-Smith’s partner, a Frenchman, Johan Siffiointe, worked for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cambodia dealing with refugees from there and part of East Timor. Together they simulated ways to bring refugees back into East Timor, what the stipulations should be on their return and when it would take place.
After debating for several weeks, Perry-Smith became comfortable and realized she had valid points to make; she even led discussions when the group leader failed to show. The experience taught her to be a confident speaker on controversial issues and a strong defender of American views.
Citadel Summer Scholars are
supported by the Cleveland Endowment Fund and the Star of the West Foundation.
For more information or to make a donation, please contact the Office
of the Provost at (843) 953-5007.