2013 PFIG Recipient Molly Cudahy
College of Arts & Sciences
2015 Graduation Year
Internship: International Rescue Committee
Notes on the first week
This summer, I will be interning with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, MD. The IRC is a refugee resettlement agency that works with the UN Refugee Agency to resettle both refugees and asylees. The organization has offices across the United States and throughout the rest of the world. In fact, they even have an office in Charlottesville! The IRC of Silver Spring works with the State of Maryland to help refugees and asylees attain self-sufficiency in their lives. To help with this goal, my specific job will be to work with the Employment Team to help refugees and asylees find sustainable jobs. This involves running Job Training workshops, and helping the clients create and edit resumes, search for jobs, apply for jobs, and conduct interview preparation. My internship this summer will be very hands-on and people centered which I couldn’t be more excited about! Approximately 90% of my activities will be working one-on-one with clients. I picked this internship for this exact reason and because it overlapped with my interests of social work, different cultures, community development, and humanitarian work. After this first week, I’m also excited to get to know the clients better and hopefully see some of them begin their first jobs in the US!
I’d like to say that, on my first day, I knew exactly what I’d be getting into and could intelligently discuss refugee issues, however that was not how it went down. Though I have some cross-cultural experience, I learned more about issues related to employment experience than cross-cultural communication. So, I was obviously a little bit more than nervous the first day. Not only did I have to navigate the complex language of refugee issues, but I also had to find my way from Herndon, VA to Silver Spring, MD on public transportation. Once I arrived at the office, it was chaotic. When you first walk into the office, you hear about six different languages, all being spoken at the same time. People are milling around the front desk and waiting area. Despite the chaos, I found my Employment Specialist (my supervisor) and we went to Panera to discuss the internship, the IRC, and what this summer would look like. Most of what I learned during lunch was about what I expected: job trainings, resumes, applications, the works. But I also discovered that I will be leading the Women’s Focus Group, a community group run through the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center (SWRC) that focuses on bringing women together to provide support and resources. In addition to the Women’s Group, I will be coordinating the Open Microphone portion of World Refugee Day (June 20). Lots of new challenges ahead!
The first day included the usual: tour of the office, introduction of team members, and setting up my computer and email accounts, but later on in the afternoon I met our first client! Disclaimer: due to privacy agreements, I am not allowed to say any names or backgrounds. We did my first employment orientation with this client. This involves introducing the client to the employment program, laying out expectations and responsibilities, and creating a plan for the individual client. The employment orientation has remained one of my favorite parts throughout the first week; the client is always happy and excited to meet you and you get to discuss all of their future plans. After our first client, I did what I now know is a large part of the job: calling clients. During my first week, I was probably calling approximately 5-10 clients a day to set up orientations, check in on interviews, set up other appointments, schedule training sessions, and many other things to keep in contact with the clients! At the end of the first day, I also learned about our priority clients, people who have been in the program and are having an especially hard time finding jobs. These are often the hardest clients, but -- on the flip side -- they are also the most rewarding when you find a job.
The rest of the week was spent observing the other appointments that I will be doing: resume updates, Job Trainings, interview preparation, and job searches. In addition, I was able to sit in on the rest of the IRC’s meetings! The employment program where I am an intern is just one part of this IRC office. There is also the health team, cultural orientation team, and all the caseworkers who are assigned specific clients and oversee all their IRC activity. I was able to see the whole process, beginning when a refugee or asylee arrives at the IRC to when they arrive at the employment team! It is quite the process, and ensures thoroughness and provides the Employment Specialists with a lot of information.
To end the week, I was able to see a glimpse of what the rest of my summer at the IRC will look like. I had my first solo appointment with a client! It felt a little like getting thrown in the deep end with no life vest, but I survived. The appointment was interview preparation for a kitchen position. We worked on specific things to say, body language, and professionalism. Though at first I felt a bit like I was drowning, observing throughout the week and my past experience working at the career center had prepared me more than I thought. I can’t wait to do more individual appointments!
After my first week, I am really looking forward to this hands-on aspect of the employment internship. It’s very different from what I’ve heard about a lot of internships where you’re filing papers, taking notes, and observing. Here, I will actually be doing and learning more than anything! I am most excited to see some of the clients we just took into the program all the way to their first job in the US! The biggest surprise of the week was how fast I started doing things on my own. On the first day, I called clients without any instruction! And during the first week, I did interview preparation without any help! This wasn’t the biggest challenge, though; the biggest challenge has been trying to find jobs. There are so many criteria that, as college students, we wouldn’t even think about: can they take public transportation, does the position require English, do you need references in the US, and so much more. Professionally, my goals for this summer are to see a project like a women’s group event all the way through -- planning and execution -- without any help and learn more about refugee issues both on a large worldwide scale and everyday things. In addition, personally I would like to get to know the clients and women’s group well and really invest in this organization.
I can’t wait to share more stories about the great work being done here at the IRC in Silver Spring!
The first half of my twelve week internship at the IRC has been an incredible experience, learning new things every day, meeting new people every week, and getting to try new projects all the time. Every two weeks, we are assigned a new group of refugees and asylees to meet with and I am constantly learning new ways to approach different issues and how clients’ individual experiences can be molded into a job for them in the US.
Most of my days are filled with a few different types of interactions with clients. The most common: phone calls. This is our main form of communication with the refugees and asylees we work with because many don’t have reliable forms of internet and transportation to email and get to the office. So, every day we call anywhere from 5-30 clients to check in on their job search, schedule appointments, sign them up for classes, or otherwise check on their status. After that, the second most common meetings are creating resumes and filling out applications. By the end of the first half of my internship, I was scheduling these meetings for myself wherever I could fit them in, as well as any my supervisor scheduled for me. Most of the resume or application appointments take around 1-2 hours, depending on the client’s experience or the application’s length. Other than that, there are different types of meetings filling in the gaps: interview preparation, searching for jobs online, “good communication meetings” (also known as “you need to call us more” meetings), and orientations into the employment program.
Although communicating directly with clients takes up approximately 85% of what I do at this internship, there are some other big projects and tasks that have opened my eyes even more to refugee and non-government organization (NGO) issues. The first is what we call reporting or keeping track of all of our clients. Because the IRC gets its money from donations (often from the government), these donors want to be able to see what their money is doing and that it is being put to good use. That requires everyone working with clients to keep detailed reports on their interactions with clients, meetings, classes, and any other official IRC-funded program in order to track the success of programs and clients. This, however, is not just helpful for donors to see what their money is doing, but also for IRC staff to see where they need to improve or what programs are really succeeding.
The second is classes. Once a week, I run a class called Job Readiness Training (JRT) with a focus on searching for jobs online. Throughout the first half of my internship, I have worked with my supervisor to streamline the process of signing clients up for this training and the training itself. The class went from a once a week class to a two-part class with a curriculum portion and doing actual online job applications with a new registration system. It’s been really great to help perfect this system and see the class become more popular with more and more people signing up.
Finally, as luck would have it, my first big individual project, preparing for World Refugee Day, culminated at the halfway point of my internship. On June 25, the Suburban Washington Resettlement Center, the group of NGOs in our office building including Lutheran Social Services, the Ethiopian Community Development Council and Baltimore City Community College, celebrated World Refugee Day at the Silver Spring Civic Center. My job, as I mentioned in the first blog post, was to organize the Open Microphone event. My supervisor signed me up for it the first week because the original organizer, an IRC employee, could no longer do it and we had a client who wanted to read her poetry. From that one client, I had to recruit more participants for the event by performing outreach into the community with emails, flyers, and phone calls. I also conducted outreach around our office to both clients and employees. By the time of the event, I had recruited 15 different participants who performed poetry, music, and storytelling. This has probably been the most challenging project of the first part of my internship because it is different than most other experiences I have had. My strength lies in talking with people one on one and giving advice, but organizing an entire event? Very intimidating. Talking with people I didn’t know about participating in an event, organizing time slots and stage equipment, and many other logistical things involved in putting on an event were all new to me. However, once the event was done and many of our clients got a chance to tell their story, it was all worth it and a great learning experience.
My initial expectations of this internship have changed a little bit, principally in my expectations for clients’ outcomes and what to expect from clients themselves. Often, there are clients who have tons of experience and a great personality and yet still don’t get a job. Then, there are clients who have no experience and get a job right away. Basically, the job search process for refugees and asylees is completely different than that of an American born student or someone with US references. I’m interested to learn more about these employment patterns in the second half of my internship and use them to make clients more attractive to employers and direct clients to the right jobs. I also hope to make the Women’s Group a bigger part of my internship and work to make it more formalized.
I can’t believe this internship is already halfway over, it’s been an incredible experience so far!
By the end of my internship, I was still doing many of my regular activities, namely resume review, teaching classes, interview preparation, and helping clients complete job applications. However, because I was more comfortable with and efficient at these tasks, I could focus on my big projects and work harder to get the job outcomes we hoped for!
In the second half of my internship, I had a few additional big projects. The first was formalizing and planning events for the Women’s Group, which I had hoped to become more involved in after the first half. The Women’s Group is largely a support group; it gives our women clients the chance to relax and form community bonds between each other and people outside the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Part of my job description was working to plan an event that would help achieve that goal. I worked with my supervisor to gather referrals to the event, call the clients, and contact the venue at which the event would be held. We were very happy to receive a request specifically from the Smithsonian Museum of African Art for our Women’s Group to come to one of their events: “Beads, Beads, and More Beads.” We gathered our group on the day of the event, and traveled down to Washington, D.C., spending a Saturday afternoon making bracelets and necklaces together in the traditional African beading style. One of our clients, who had experience in beading, even used her networking skills to get the contact information for the event coordinator at the museum! All in all, it was a very successful event and a very rewarding experience.
Another aspect of my work with the Women’s Group was integrating it into the IRC framework. Up until this summer, it had been mostly an informal group of IRC employees and clients. However, in order to receive funding, the Women’s Group needed to lay out goals, objectives, and formal plans to track the progress of the group. Though it was a little more logistical and formal than most other aspects of my internship, it was really cool to see the goals and framework that help guide and track all our interactions with our clients. It was also awesome to be part of the group that really pushed for the Women’s Group to be incorporated into the IRC framework. Long after I’m gone, I will know that the work I did helped to establish the objectives that will shape how the Women’s Group progresses over the next couple years.
My second big project of the second half of my internship was designing and teaching one of my own classes. Most of the classes that I helped with in the first half of my internship and into the second part of my internship already had outlines that I tweaked here and there, but none that I had completely designed on my own. My supervisor and I decided on the topic of Fall Retail Push because many stores start to hire more temporary and full time staff for the back to school season and winter holiday season. Developing the class required a lot of research and asking the Employment Specialists what their clients have told them about interviews and working in retail. This class also required knowing that the first time I did it wouldn’t be perfect and we’d learn a lot each time we did and improve it accordingly.
After a lot of planning and development work, I got my PowerPoint, outline, and client list together and it was class time! It was also a little different than I expected because we had some unexpected low-English proficiency (LEP) clients in the class and needed an interpreter. The class went well and we made a few improvements to help plan for the second part of the class the next week. Though the first class was hectic, the second class was even more so! Our interpreter didn’t show up, my supervisor had to leave on an emergency, and it was my fourth class in a week! But I got through it and it was really rewarding to do it all on my own and have the clients react in such a positive way to the class. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but -- looking back -- one of my best memories of my internship.
Though I have had work experience in the past and had an idea of what I wanted to do after I graduate, this was the most eye-opening experience into the work life and workforce I’ve ever had. I’ve learned a lot about not only the non-profit industry and refugee resettlement, but also what I liked about these things and my workforce preferences. The best part of this job has been the people. Both the other IRC employees and the clients have such awesome stories and are very kind and patient people.
When it comes to the refugees, I would have expected with all the struggles they deal with on a daily basis that they would be unenthusiastic and difficult to motivate, but that couldn’t have been less true! The overwhelming majority of the clients come in ready to work and get a job even if they just rode the bus for two hours or slept on the floor all night because they still don’t have a mattress. So it’s really been a surprise how enthusiastic and kind all of these clients are despite the fact that they have every reason not to be. I would encourage everyone to get involved with a disadvantaged population at least once in your life because you can see how optimistic they are and learn about their struggles first hand.
Additionally, one of the other really enjoyable things about working with these people is learning about not the things that separate you, but the things that you have in common, like going to the beading event with the Women’s Group or talking to a client about their family. There are so many simple ways to get involved, there’s even an IRC office in Charlottesville!
When I first started my internship in May, I thought my summer would consist of sitting in an office and really having to adjust to office life. But this internship couldn’t have proved me more wrong! I got to talk to awesome people all day long, get really involved, take on a lot of responsibilities, and have a very hands-on experience. Practically everything a girl could hope for in a first internship! I hope to continue working with the refugee and asylee populations and hopefully in the direct services workplace environment that I was in this summer.
Finally, I am so thankful to the Parents Fund, UVA Career Center, and the IRC in Silver Spring for affording me the opportunity to have such a great experience this summer! I would not have been able to pursue this opportunity were it not for the grant program established by the Parents Fund and administered by the UVA Career Center. Thank you and, please, do everything that you can to continue this important and worthwhile program.