#PrepareAtPeace | Students Explore Immigrant Roots in Whirlwind Journey to NYC

April 23, 2019

WPU students traveled to New York City to trace the footsteps of the millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and settled in the New York City area and beyond. Students visited iconic New York locations, such as Ellis Island, Liberty Island, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, and the 9/11 Memorial.

On a whirlwind trip that started at 6 A.M. Friday morning at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, WPU students embarked on an educational endeavor to cultural sites across New York City. The trip served as an immersive learning experience for students enrolled in Dr. Carolyn Nye‘s business course, Business and the Immigrant Experience. The itinerary was carefully plotted to take the group throughout the island of Manhattan, specifically to locations that hold rich immigrant history, starting with the New York City Tenement Museum.

Students took the Tenement Museum tour where they followed the lives of the immigrants who lived and ran their business within the building over 100 years ago, the interior of which has been carefully preserved for the last century. The museum’s interactive exhibits allowed for the students to access archived footage and interviews with some of the buildings former residents, which gave intimate details on the lives of the immigrant tenants.

“It’s been a powerful experience seeing what immigrants, from all different countries, went through to be here and to form our Nation.”

Roger Christman, Department Chair of Art, Communication, and SGD

The group covered a lot of ground for the remainder of the first day, making their way south for lunch in Little Italy and for souvenir shopping in Chinatown, two of New York’s most famous immigrant neighborhoods. Immersed into the culture of these neighborhoods, students discovered that English was no longer the primary language for the businesses, advertisements, signs, and the people who called the area home. The group experienced firsthand that New York City is still a booming epicenter for immigration, where nearly all of the world’s languages can be heard along its city streets.

WPU students visit New York City
WPU Students, Anthony Williams (center) and Hannah Ericksen (right), stand at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“It’s been a powerful experience seeing what immigrants, from all different countries, went through to be here and to form our Nation,” said Roger Christman, Department Chair of Art, Communication, and SGD. “It’s been insightful and just a wonderful way for us to have a much better understanding of that experience and what it means to be an American, and how we’re all together to form this country.”

The group closed out their first day by trekking to Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Times Square, and taking in the panoramic views of New York City from the observatory atop the Empire State Building at sunset. The group went their separate ways for dinner and further sightseeing, then back to the hotel to rest for Liberty Island and Ellis Island the next day.

Saturday morning, the group assembled at the 9/11 Memorial where they reflected on the events that transpired there in 2001. For most of the students, this was the first time they had been to the site and seeing the massive footprints of where the two towers once stood was a powerful experience. Spirits quickly picked back up and the group was on the move to Battery Park, where they could see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance as they boarded the ferry.

“It’s one thing to learn about these things in class or from a book, but it’s a whole other thing to go out into the world and experience it.”

Damani Toudle ’19, WPU Student

As the ferry rounded Liberty Island to port, the group stood along the railing to take in the sight of one of the most famous statues and symbols in the world. Professors Nye and Christman took the group around the island where students snapped countless photos of the Statue of Liberty, a welcomed sight for immigrants landing at Ellis Island since 1886.

WPU students visit New York City
WPU Professors and Students visit Ellis Island.

“It’s been very eye-opening realizing how hard some of these people had it,” said Damani Toudle, a WPU Student. “Coming to America was the best way for them to make their lives better, and the lives of their families. It’s one thing to learn about these things in class or from a book, but it’s a whole other thing to go out into the world and experience it.”

Once on Ellis Island, students walked the grounds and toured the exhibits, many of which detailed the conditions of the home countries that immigrants were fleeing from. Immigrants from all religions and backgrounds fled their native boarders from wars, famine, persecution and even genocide, sharing the common goal of starting anew in the United States. As the students toured the Island, they were often left silent and affected by the images of immigrants who were fearful, yet hopeful, for the start of their new American lives.

“It’s not all happy, some people didn’t get through, so it was definitely really emotional,” said Hannah Ericksen, a WPU Student. “But it’s awesome that you can see your name — your ancestor’s name on the wall, that they came here and endured the horrible conditions just to be here and have a new life.”

36 hours later, the group from WPU said their goodbyes to Ellis Island — the Isle of Hope, the Isle of Tears — and boarded their last ferry to Liberty State Park and then the airport, taking with them a new perspective of the immigrant nation they belong to.

For more news and feature stories, search #PrepareAtPeace on social media, or visit www.peace.edu/news.

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