A Fulbright Specialist Helps Iceland Develop Refugee Response

Nicole Dubus, Assistant Professor of Social Work at San Jose State University
2015 Fulbright Specialist to Iceland 

In what feels like years ago, I applied to join the Fulbright Specialist Program Roster. In November, when I had forgotten I had submitted my name, I received an email asking if anyone with experience with refugees would be willing to go to Iceland. I smiled at the email, fantasizing about Iceland in the winter, and decided to reply with my CV. Within a week, I was asked to go to Iceland later that month.

I understand that my assignment might be different than the typical Fulbright Specialist project. In the last year people have been forced to flee from their countries, traveling over dangerous waters, mountains, and across borders to find refuge. Syria has been hard hit by this crisis and countries that have never needed to accept large numbers of refugees are now being asked to. The U.S. Department of State hopes to address this crisis through a rapid refugee response component of the Fulbright Specialist Program. One part of this response is to provide countries with experts from the United States, and I have the amazing opportunity to be that expert for Iceland.

Dr. Dubus with colleagues in Iceland

As I write, I have been in Iceland for a little over two weeks and will have one more week here. This has been an extraordinary experience. After days of meetings with politicians, social workers, researchers and professors, school educators, Red Cross workers, and others who are preparing for the arrival of families from Syria, my son in California texted me, “Do you feel like you are making a difference?” In my short time here, I feel that my expertise has been used well, my suggestions have been implemented, and that I have helped bring parties together to consider issues that I hope will serve the communities, agencies, and families.

To help Iceland prepare for refugees, I have had to go through my research and years of experience in social work to pull information that could be used, and used quickly. The process allowed me to reflect on my work in novel contexts, deconstructing it into concrete steps, implementable actions, and concise discussion of complex concepts. This has helped me deepen my own work and knowledge.

Fulbright has allowed me to be part of a historical moment in world history where Iceland is positioned to develop a refugee resettlement process that learns from other countries’ challenges, and can become an exemplar as our world faces heartbreaking tragedies of forced migrations. I hope to stay in contact with colleagues here, to be available as needed, and to bear witness to their progress in welcoming refugees.