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Carlsbad Students Get Lesson In Media Literacy On Trip To Greece

Pacific Ridge School students film a nongovernmental organization worker in G...

Credit: Pacific Ridge School

Above: Pacific Ridge School students film a nongovernmental organization worker in Greece in this undated photo.

Every year, high school students at the Pacific Ridge School, a private school in Carlsbad, get to do something few students do: pick a spot on the globe and fly there. Some go to learn a language or do community service. Megan McDuffie, Elliott Lehrer and Jonah Gercke went to Greece this year to go beyond the headlines and film their own documentary on the migrant crisis there.

“Everyone hears the numbers, everyone hears the suffering that people are going through, but we actually met the people,” McDuffie said. “We had lunch with them, they wanted to take selfies with us and ask us questions.”

The recent graduates and 12 of their classmates wanted to document the side of the refugee crisis they were not seeing on television. Since 2015, news reports have detailed the arrivals of hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian migrants to Greece, and the struggle to help them.

RELATED: For Syrian Migrants, Many Reasons To Leave Turkey For Europe

“With a lot of media being polarized with the election and other political things going on, we felt like we wanted the truth instead of polarized media,” Lehrer said.

“I was picturing people lying around on the ground in horrible conditions, people coming over and kicking them because of this supposed increasing backlash that was going on,” said Lehrer of what he was expecting after watching news reports. “But when we got there, they're just regular people going about their lives — kids playing around or buying food at the grocery store. It was definitely very different than what I expected.”

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Nicholas Mcvicker,

The students visited Athens and Lesvos, where they filmed five short documentaries on how the the arrival of migrants affected the country’s tourism industry, the role of nongovernmental organizations, and the ethics of covering the issue as outsiders.

McDuffie said, unlike what they saw in the news back home, hope and humility overshadowed despair in all of their interviews.

“I talked to a man from Ghana named Isaac. We were talking to him before the cameras, asking if he wanted to be interviewed, and he said his story wasn't powerful enough. He's from Ghana, not from Syria, so he hasn't gone through the immense troubles everyone else has,” she said. “That moment for me was impactful, because we're not here to get the saddest story, we're here to learn more.”

But like many of the reporters they had perceived as biased, the students learned it is hard to get the whole picture. Sacrifices made in the field narrow it, like when the students decided not to enter a refugee camp.

“Because we were such a large group of 15 really privileged kids from southern California, it seemed awkward to go into a refugee camp,” Gercke said.

“Driving past the camps in the bus was very striking, because to me, it did not look like a camp, it looked like a prison. You had three rows of barbed-wire fencing and then long rows of storage containers with little windows cut in every 15 feet. So it had to be baking in there because it was in the middle of summer in the Mediterranean.

“We didn't capture any of that on the camera because it wasn't the purpose of the documentary,” Gercke said. “But omitting that leaves a very different picture of what's going on than what we conveyed.”

“We heard the stories of the bad from people who are now in the better — not the good, but the better,” McDuffie added.

They said, after the trip, they understood more clearly why it is incumbent on the audience to “watch, read and listen to as many (news) sources as possible,” said Gercke, who plans to work as a journalist or filmmaker.

He said there is a lot from the trip he will use in his work.

“It’s important to contextualize the ambitions and goals and dreams that a lot of the people who are going through the refugee crisis have,” he said. “It's not just a story of sadness and tragedy, although that is a factor.”

“These people who have gone through some very horrible things — all the stuff you hear about on the media — are just trying to have regular lives,” added Lehrer. “They don't want to be labeled as a migrant. They want to be a doctor or a teacher and they happen to have a background of having to move their countries.”

RELATED: 7 Stories To Read About Resettlement In San Diego

Both Lehrer and McDuffie plan to go into math or science.

“No matter what profession people are going into, just understanding that people have a shared humanity … is really important,” Lehrer said.

McDuffie said, while she and her classmates thought they would discover the truth about the migrant crisis, they instead discovered that truth can be elusive.

“My own understanding has grown so much to be that I don't know what's happening really,” she said. “If you think you know everything, you probably know half as much as what you really do. I think the more open you are to trying to learn more information the better, because you will never know everything. It's impossible. There's too much to know.”

The students each paid their own way for the trip. Pacific Ridge offers financial assistance if needed.

Other trips included China, Australia, Costa Rica, Cuba, India, Morocco, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Fifteen students from the Pacific Ridge School traveled to Greece in May to get to the truth of the migrant crisis there.

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