Interns and refugees -- often a strong relationships
Boston — Leslie Wilson tutored refugees in a refugee camp in the Phillipines. Paul Gleiberman processed travel and medical documents for refugees leaving Malaysia to settle in new homes abroad.
At the same time they earned college credit for their efforts.
Both participated in the year-old internship program at Georgetown University's international studies department set up to give students practical experience working with world problems. The focus so far has been to help relocate Asian and Cuban refugees.
The internship lasts six months, and students earn academic credit by writing papers about their experience or doing tutorial studies in subjects related to their field of interest.
Assignment locations, chosen by the international volunteer organization they will be working for, could be in refugee camps and processing centers in the Phillipines, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Geneva, Singapore, Manila, or even the US.
Students pay full tuition for one semester, are provided with room and board, and receive a small stipend to help defray personal expenses.
Linda Grey, director of international student activities at Georgetown (GU), in a telephone interview, stated emphatically that this program is an academic experience. The students are not "acting" as "relief agents" but are there for a "learning process."
According to Janine Farhat, assistant to the director of the International Program at GU, the aim of the program is to "give students exposure to problems in the world." She said that GU has a strong international focus and should "show students how to have a better understanding of world problems and how to solve them."
At the same time, she continues, the program allows the academic community to be "active participants in solving world problems."
Gretchen Brainard, Washington liaison for International Committee on Migration (ICM), the volunteer organization most involved with the GU program, agreed that these students are making a contribution. "They are young, hard working, and enthusiastic. They could often identify problems that an operations officer, working for a long time, had overlooked."
Leslie Wilson, a student, said she enjoyed spending after hours with refugees when permanent workers felt they needed a break.
Paul Gleiberman confirmed the idea that the presence of short-term workers contributed a vitality and optimism to the work that helped get things done. He said that as his assignment progressed he began to "get used to things" and was less shocked by the harsh conditions surrounding him.
But ICM is proceeding slowly because of limited openings. Mrs. Brainard would like to see more happening with the program but is "cautious" because much depends upon the need and size of refugee problems. The opportunities may be less in the future.
"A continuation of the more orderly six months' program depends upon the degree which ICM is involved in refugee problems" states Mrs. Brainard. To maintain the operation, you "need a core of pros for continuity. We can't plan on interns, but must maintain continuity by having permanent positions and adapting interns as the need arises."
Two other colleges, Dartmouth and Wellesley, each chose one student to participate in the program that began in January.
Dartmouth already has a full program to internships that students can choose to participate in. Jan Tarjan, director of the Tucker Internship program at Dartmouth said in a telephone interview she considers the GU program "another placement" for them and is "very happy to be involved."
Dartmouth schedules four terms per academic year and students generally attend three out of four terms. Students can choose to participate in an internship program during the fourth term but do not receive academic credit for their experience.
The primary concern at Dartmouth is for specific development of the student. They shy away from accredited programs to give the student an opportunity for a "consciousness raising experience."
Louise Witlock, who rotated working in the main office in Singapore and refugee camps in Indonesia, felt the experience to be a "consciousness raiser" for her.
Her bubble of classroom idealism, she admits, burst promplty on contact with the real world politicizing of international relations. She felt dissillusioned for a while, but after sorting things out concluded that the internship was "one of the most worthwhile experiences I've had. It was a learning experienc e, and learning isn't easy."