Applying for an Internship Abroad
As you may have seen in my latest Instagram post, I was just awarded a fully funded internship abroad in a country of my choice during the Summer of 2020! I have received this incredible opportunity through the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies in the Liberal Arts (CISLA), and I am SO honored!
In my application to CISLA, I spent a lot time reflecting on my privilege, which is honestly what allowed me to even apply in the first place! For several years now, I have struggled to come to terms with my privileged background and understand how I can use this to help others – but without being a “white missionary!” For my returning readers, you may have noticed this struggle come out in some of my writing about volunteering abroad.
I wanted to continue this discussion about privilege and foreign volunteer work on my blog, so my original plan was to just post that snippet of my application. But upon further consideration, I realized that it might be more fun to post multiple parts of application so that you can get to know me a little better! I hope you enjoy reading about my past, my future aspirations, and my innermost thoughts!
When I was eleven years old, I lived in Madrid, Spain for a year, where I attended an all-Spanish public school. Outside of classes I studied Spanish intensively with a tutor and took flamenco dance lessons. I also took a gap year between high school and college, during which I lived in India for four months, Guatemala for three months, and Costa Rica for three months, doing volunteer work in each country.
In India, I solo taught (and planned lessons for) a class of eleven- to thirteen-year-olds. I also spent three afternoons a week working on community service projects with children in a nearby slum. In Guatemala, I tutored children in math, reading and Spanish while also continuing my own studies in Spanish. In Costa Rica, I worked on a local coffee farm and was involved in various community service and local engagement projects. In both Costa Rica and Guatemala, I lived with host families and spoke only in Spanish.
English is my first language, although I speak Spanish fluently as well. My mother spent much of her childhood in Spain and has spoken to me in Spanish my whole life. In addition, I have lived in three different Spanish-speaking countries. I am currently studying Arabic, and I have studied Hindi and Italian to a small extent.
I am double majoring in Global Islamic Studies and International Relations with a minor in Arabic. I plan to study abroad in Amman, Jordan for one semester of my junior year and in Fes, Morocco for the other semester. Studying abroad for two semesters requires me to take an extra class for every semester that I am in the States, but I know that my time abroad will be well worth the heavy workload on campus.
The summer of 2016, I read Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in preparation for my gap year. For the rest of the summer I struggled to fall asleep at night. I was acutely aware of the immense privilege bestowed upon me – a home, a loving and accepting family, enough money, an amazing education… What are the chances of being born into this life? Google didn’t have the answer, but I knew that wasn’t my real question either. Why me? I would lie in bed, convinced that I was given this privilege for a reason, but stricken with fear by the burden of it all. I was just one person, an 18-year-old girl no less. What was I supposed to do? How would I be able to live with myself, confronted by such extreme disparities in privilege every day, every minute, every second?
My time in India was incredibly challenging and depressing, but it was also one of the happiest times in my life. Watching my beloved students grapple with poverty on a daily basis was heart-wrenching, to say the least. But the way in which my students and peers welcomed me into their homes, lives, and cultures filled my heart with gratitude and love. They helped me learn to channel my anger at disparities in privilege into a relentless pursuit of change.
Initially, I had no interested in teaching. In fact, when my gap year began I knew nothing of my future career plans except that I wanted to avoid the realm of education. When I discovered that my job in India would be to teach every subject for an entire class by myself, I almost up and left. But I stuck with it, and the following months showed me that education is perhaps the single biggest way to change the world.
I still struggle daily with the question of what to do with my privilege. But at least now I feel empowered in my search for an answer to this question. I firmly believe that universal access to education is a basic human right, and this is the issue I choose to tackle with the resources and benefits granted to me through my privilege.
Education is important for everyone, but it is particularly important in the case of refugees whose schooling has been disrupted. Universal access to education is an international issue that requires the efforts of the entire global community. In order to be effective in my work, it is imperative that I have a strong understanding of foreign education systems, cultures, and government policies. Even more importantly, I need to understand the unique situation that each country and culture faces in improving education access. What would be most effective in each specific place? What do the local people want most, and what do they think would best address their needs? These are questions that cannot be answered or understood from my home country. CISLA would, I believe, help me find the answers to these crucial questions, both in my time abroad and in my interactions with CISLA peers and mentors.
Proposed Senior Integrative Project
In my honors thesis, I plan to investigate potential governmental and NGO policies for helping refugees pursue an education, particularly if their schooling has been interrupted by conflict or displacement. Addressing this issue as a global community is crucial if we are to avoid creating a “lost generation.” Human-rights organizations “warn that the countries in conflict risk losing a future generation of scientists, engineers, physicians, teachers and leaders – and that university-aged refugees who have found shelter elsewhere represent a crucial opportunity to reverse some of the lost intellectual capital” (Butler 433). In addition, many argue that “allowing an educational void to develop in the Middle East could create a fertile recruiting environment for radical militias and terrorists” (Butler 433). Thus, it is in the best interest of all nations with a refugee community that we protect and invest in the intellectual capital of students fleeing conflict.
Helping displaced children continue their education is a complex issue, however, with various political, cultural and economic obstacles. For example, many refugees live in less-prosperous neighborhoods whose schools have fewer resources to aid students who are only just learning the language of their host country. In addition, the stigma of being a refugee or asylum-seeker has been shown to deter children from enrolling in schools (Bourgonje 58-62).
Of course, refugees come from many places and speak many different languages. Of the five countries to which the highest number of refugees trace their origins, three of them are predominantly Arabic-speaking nations. Thus, I have chosen to study Arabic because it is currently the most commonly spoken language among refugees (“Refugee Population by Country or Territory of Origin”).
Proposed Internship Abroad
My dream internship would be with an NGO or a governmental organization in Madrid focused on refugee aid and relief. For example, one possible organization that I could work with in Spain is the Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado (CEAR), which focuses on helping refugees in Spain with various issues, particularly access to education.
The CISLA Handbook states that the internship must be in a country where I can use the chosen foreign language. However, I had an informal OPI-like interview in Spanish with Professor Julia Kushigian, and she said that my Spanish should be more than adequate for a CISLA internship in Spain. If, however, this is not possible, then I would like to spend my internship abroad working with a refugee aid organization in Jordan or another Arabic-speaking country. For example, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has departments focusing on refugee education in areas such as Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza Strip, West Bank and Syria (“What We Do: Education”).
Of course, I plan to study abroad in Arabic-speaking countries to improve my language skills. However, I would prefer to do my Internship in Spain because my ultimate goal is to work in the European Union in helping displaced refugees continue their education. Although Spain is not an Arabic-speaking country, I plan to choose an internship that would involve translating between Arabic-speaking refugees and Spanish-speaking refugee organizational groups. If, however, this would not be possible with CISLA, I would be more than happy to intern in an Arabic-speaking country. After all, receiving any internship abroad would be an immense privilege, and I know that I would take full advantage of the opportunity regardless of where I am placed.
Bourgonje, Paloma. “Education for Refugee and Asylum Seeking Children in OECD Countries.” Education International. 2010, pp. 58-62.
Butler, Declan. “Lost Generation Looms as Refugees Miss University.” Nature, vol. 525, no. 7570, 2015, pp. 433–434.
“Refugee Population by Country or Territory of Origin.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SM.POP.REFG.OR.
“What We Do: Education” United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). https://www.unrwa.org/what-we-do/education