My first day, 21 days later.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011. 6:18pm. 21 days (sorry JazzyJ Hughes for not having posted sooner, I told you I can’t handle the pressure of blogging life well) into my internship and I have fallen in love. And I may not return to campus for senior year. Oh wait, I guess I kind of need to complete my undergrad to be employable.
But honestly someone might have to drag me away from my internship at the end of August. I was rather hesitant about this summer, as I have spent the past two summers on campus working in the Admissions office. Go ahead; call me crazy or madly obsessed with Connecticut College… I’m both.
So this summer was all about change: living in an apartment, having to cook meals instead of food just magically appearing on my plate in Harris, dealing with rush hour on the subway, and a job in the middle of Boston with a Starbucks and Staples on every corner (problem: if paying rent didn’t make me poor, those two places will).
I am the Intake and Resource Clinic intern at the International Institute of Boston (IIB). A bit of a fancy title but it works. Essentially, I work with refugees and asylees. Depending on the client’s needs, I perform interviews with new clients/walk-ins, serve as a referral source for social service needs, accompany clients to various appointments, provide crisis assessment and intervention, and provide case management services to asylees, victims of domestic violence, and victims of human trafficking.
It went from a “10-4pm with a one-hour lunch job” to a “I want to get to work early, leave late, and oh, it’s already 6pm and I haven’t had lunch?” kind of job.
The first day was the typical orientation stuff: meet everyone in the entire building and pretend to remember their names, sign ten dozen different papers promising confidentiality and acknowledging that sexual harassment is not appropriate (I might have signed my life away, there was a lot of fine print), and sit awkwardly pretending that I belong in the office and know what I’m doing because I’m wearing my newly purchased “office appropriate” clothing.
My first week was spent learning the tricks of the trade: how to use the different databases, remembering who is eligible for what services, and my favorite (which I’ll never master unless I somehow wake up one day with a photographic memory), keeping track of what paperwork is used for what social service and where it has to be sent. My computer is covered in notes with scrawled instructions on how to do what when. By the time August rolls around, Staples will probably just give me a lifetime supply of post-it notes out of pity.
After a week of pretending to know what I was doing with the help of my supervisor, I was left to my own devices. So basically, I continued to pretend that I knew what I was doing. My supervisor had made the mistake of telling me that she liked questions, and so I took advantage. Being only an office door away, I would help a client as much as I could by myself and then run over to her office with 80 different questions.
About five weeks later, and I’m proud to say that I have been able to reduce the 80 questions to about 8… Every day is different. Most days there are scheduled appointments. These are nice, because I know what to expect, or at least some background information on the person. I have time to practice pronouncing the person’s name so I don’t make a fool of myself in the waiting room and I can prepare paperwork ahead of time.
We also get a lot of walk-ins. Today for instance, there were only two scheduled appointments. According to the calendar, it should have been a slow and quiet day. But by the time I finally had a chance to look at a clock, I realized it was already time to leave the office for the night.
My duties vary day to day… some are spent filling out applications with clients for healthcare, housing, food stamps, employment authorization, and job applications. Others are spent staying on hold with the Department of Transitional Assistance for hours while getting increasingly angry because all I want to do is find out why my client has not received his food stamps yet and the elevator-music playing in my ear isn’t even elevator worthy. The lack of people to answer the phones and the risk of being transferred 4 times until my call has been sent outside the DTA office is high. And all I have to take my anger out on is the phone.
It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster… Being forced to stay on hold for eternity is, in actuality not that bad. I’ve worked with victims of domestic violence, I’ve listened to clients’ stories of why their lives were at risk in their home countries, of the struggles to put food on the table and to find a place to sleep for the night.
Refugees and asylees come to the United States because their home countries are no longer safe to live in. And then they arrive to the United States and many of them are left to their own devices. Literally starting anew, there are many unknowns. Having to learn another language, finding a job, a place to stay, childcare, school, and medical care, among many, many other things. Though refugees and asylees are eligible for social service assistance, it can be difficult to understand the system. Immigrants who are legal permanent residents must be in the country for five years before they are eligible for such services, despite also starting over.
As an intern at IIB I’m able to act as an advocate for immigrants. Though some days can be frustrating as I’m not able to help someone as much as I’d like to, my 21 days at IIB have been a rewarding experience – one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
In an attempt to not end on a sappy, someone find the box of tissues note, I shall leave you with this:
It’s good to know that every aspect of Connecticut College has prepared me for the real world. Even the social life of CC. Oh yeah, that’s right, 3 years of navigating through those quality, sweaty Cro dances filled with far too many people all up in each other’s body parts has thoroughly prepared me for the subway trains filled with far too many people all up in each other’s body parts.