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This January, three master’s students from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) participated in a Harvard winter term field study course on the Syrian refugee crisis led by Professor Claude Bruderlein of the Harvard School of Public Health. Supported by a financial grant from CMES, master’s students Stephanie Sobek, Jenny Quigley-Jones, and Elsien van Pinxteren spent three weeks in Jordan examining the national and international response to the Syrian refugee crisis and learning strategic approaches to navigating the political and humanitarian issues surrounding it. Jointly offered by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health, the “Winter Field Study Course in the Middle East 2014: Assessing the Syrian Refugee Crisis in [Jordan]” attracted graduate students from a wide range of backgrounds. Many days consisted of back-to-back meetings with government officials and NGO representatives, followed by debriefing sessions. The students often had only the tiniest biographies on their interview subjects before meeting them, approximating a real-life field environment in which information is frequently scarce. In these conditions, the combined knowledge of the group, and their familiarity with and trust in each other, was a key asset. Quigley-Jones was surprised by the level of synergy they attained by the end of the course: “It was amazing to learn a group so well. I’ve never been that organized with a group of people before,” she says.
Jenny Quigley-Jones, Elsien van Pinxteren, and Stephanie Sobek in Jordan in January 2014.