As a German teacher working with refugees for decades, I (Ingrid Otepka) have observed that the experience of war can change people’s emotional lives. This can lead to aggravating situations in the classroom, which I would like to describe further by using a few examples:
External event as a trigger of a trauma memory
There are many things than can trigger a traumatic memory and the hereby experienced feelings.
One possible reason for this can be an external event, such is the case in the following example:
Construction work took place outside the classroom. It led to a sudden brief eruption in the classroom, which brought back memories of non-integrated traumatic experiences in some of the students. They began to shake, started sweating, felt great anxiety or sadness.
The lesson was suspended.
I became increasingly aware that there was a great need for support for refugees apart from the German course, and so I began to deal more and more with the subject of psyche and trauma on a practical and scientific level. I researched on existing psychosocial institutions, took part in training and attended additional courses, read scientific literature and sought a dialogue with leading experts in trauma research. Finally, I found new opportunities for people suffering from severe stress in search for a mindful attitude. In 2017 I attended an advanced training in Salzburg with Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading scientists in the field of mindfulness. It was there that I heard about a project in the Middle East. It’s about the development of free online trauma-sensitive mindfulness exercises in Arabic specifically created for refugees with the aim of regulating emotions and reducing stress.
I contacted this organization at the end of 2017 and a long-term cooperation as a volunteer began. Out of this cooperation, Mindfulness for Austria was developed, which was situated at the language school Sphinx Lingua in Vienna.
In the context of Mindfulness for Austria we aim to develop free trauma-sensitive online mindfulness exercises in the languages of refugees and to make use of these exercises in already existing organizations in the psychosocial domain as well as to promote them for German courses in Austria. Mindfullness is at the core of Mindfulness for Austria, therefore the project moved from the language school Spinx Lingua to the nonprofit organization MARA ○ Mindfully Experiencing Life in 2021. At this point we would like to thank Sphinx Lingua and the organization from the Middle East for making Mindfulness for Austria possible.