"It's just amazing to realize you've been heard," says Dawn Duncan.
Careful listening is the idea behind a project that aims to break down barriers and build empathy between people who might think they have little in common.
A professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Duncan joined an international project called Narrative 4 as a way to address political and social divisions. She noticed a growing backlash against refugees and immigrants in Moorhead and across the Red River in Fargo, N.D., and decided to use the project to connect immigrants and non-immigrants.
It's a simple idea that has sometimes surprising results.
People who volunteer for the project are paired with someone with different beliefs or who comes from a different culture.
Each person tells the other a story about themselves. The next day they return and each reflects that story back to the person who told it.
"And I have to say that the first time I did it, my partner when she told my story, she was saying things I hadn't actually said that she had picked up on perfectly. And hearing my story told back taught me about myself," said Duncan.
• "Dinners Together Minneapolis": Welcoming new immigrants, one meal at a time
"My story is about changing and how you will accept and adapt a new thing. I came here 2008, everything was extremely different. The weather, you know the weather, the language, everything," said Eman Yassin as she began her story in a small conference room at Concordia College.
Yassin was once a journalist in Iraq. Nearly 20 years ago she fled that country with two young sons and little else when she found out her life was in danger. She spent a decade in Jordan before getting permission to come to the U.S.
Her story is about using smiles and coffee to meet her neighbors as she tries to fit into a new community.
"All of us, we are just human. Have all the value, have same mind. When you smile and greet another they reply with a smile. When you care and pay attention to another, they will pay attention to you," said Yassin.
While Yassin talks, Karen Stoker listens intently and takes notes. She's a business owner in Fargo and a native Minnesotan.
And then Stoker shares her story.
"Growing up in a small town that was primarily Scandinavian and Lutheran I had a fortunate upbringing, but lots of things were very black and white," she said.
She tells about travel broadening her perspectives and influencing her decision to start a hotel and restaurant in Fargo with a focus on arts, culture and personal connections.
"And I saw that no matter how different you think people are, that there's food and there's music and there are visual arts and all of those things come together and really remove a lot of boundaries," said Stoker.
After they each tell their stories, Yassin and Stoker share a meal and talk more about themselves.
The next day they return and they share what they heard.
"Hello, my name is Karen Stoker," says Yassin as she recalls Stokers story.
• In depth: Who are Minnesota's refugees?
Both women reflect the story from notes taken the day before. But they each also add some between-the-lines observations. Listening to their owns stories told back to them prompts an emotional response from each of them.
"Like she heard my story with her heart," said Yassin. "She's just an artist and sensitive about everything and she say things with a lot of beauty. When she told me my story I just looking at her, like really, yes I faced a lot. But I would never give myself credit. The way she say it, 'oh my God, she's a brave woman,'"
"I was moved to tears that she saw things that maybe I knew that I had but are vulnerable and you don't like go around sharing that much," said Stoker. "And also things that when she said them I kind of had a little bit of an a-ha moment myself, thinking I do look at things that way. And that she heard that in my story meant a lot."
Yassin and Stoker were unsure what to expect when they agreed to this exercise in empathy.
"The actual act of telling someone else's story changed me in a more profound way than I would have anticipated," said Stoker. "You're honoring someone by listening and repeating that story. So out of that comes respect and compassion and curiosity."
Yassin struggled to express what the experience meant to her.
"I just imagined a new door is opened for me. I'm relieved. I'm OK," said Yassin. "Like, I don't know. But for me my heart is open, my eyes is open. It's like something heavy is gone from me."
As the session ends, each person must commit to action.
Yassin pledges to tell everyone about the importance of sharing stories, listening and caring.
Stoker promises to learn more about how she can help promote empathy and understanding in the community.
Narrative 4 project coordinator Dawn Duncan knows some people see this as a squishy, feel good exercise with little lasting effect.
"But no, it takes courage to step up and do this. It takes the courage to make yourself vulnerable," Duncan said. "And then, in our busy busy lives, to make time to do this. To put away the phones. To bring things to a halt and to see each other and hear each other and spend time together."
Correction (June 13, 2017): Dawn Duncan's job title was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. The story has been updated.