Internships are an invaluable opportunity to learn and apply one’s knowledge and skills in a real world situation. I was able to put my anthropological knowledge to work at Refugee Services of Texas (RST). This agency helps to resettle refugees, as well as provide job development and counseling. They also help victims of trafficking and those seeking asylum through mental health counseling and job skill development. My internship provided a wonderful experience by allowing me to work with people from many different cultures on a day to day basis.
The resettlement program at Refugee Services of Texas is where I helped the most. Refugees come from all over the world but during my internship I worked mostly with refugees from Iran, Liberia, Burundi, and Burma. The Burmese refugees were larger in number, and often different from each one another because of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. This internship educated me about the many differences refugees have, including not only their culture, but also where they lived and the persecution they dealt with in their home countries.
Setting up the apartments for refugees was one of my favorite parts of this internship. It was my job to build a “kit” for each new arrival. A “kit” includes items such as basic toiletries (e.g., shower curtain, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant), linens (towels, sheets, blankets, pillows etc.), kitchen items (dishes, silverware, pots and pans, mixing bowls and spoons, etc.), and cleaning supplies (laundry detergent, dish detergent, household cleaner, mop and broom, etc.). Each new arrival has a “kit” set up for them with the appropriate number of items for the number of people in the family. After creating a “kit”, it was then my job to transport all goods to their new dwelling.
Another aspect of setting up the new homes was to shop for culturally sound food items for the family. My first experience was difficult because the family I was shopping for was Muslim. I learned that practicing Muslims only eat Halal meat and this must be purchased at a Halal market. Halal meat is meat that has been blessed by a Muslim, killed in a humane manner, and must be completely blood-free. It was a very interesting experience to shop at a Halal market and be asked many questions for which I did not know the answers. I was very confused, but a fellow shopper was kind enough to help me complete my purchase correctly.
The apartments are normally arranged the day before the family arrives. When the family arrives in the United States, a staff member from RST, typically a caseworker, will greet the family at the airport. I was fortunate enough to experience this while interning. I was able to greet the family and help them carry their bags.
The morning after the refugee family arrives starts early. A caseworker will normally pick up the family at nine in the morning to take them all to the Social Security Office to apply for Social Security cards. This is so the adults can being working as soon as possible. This is one task I tended to often. The Social Security Office is always busy with new applicants and the average waiting time is about two hours. After filling out the quick application, it is just a matter of waiting.
Although client interaction was enjoyable, I also had to tend to many office tasks such as filing. While filing can be somewhat monotonous, I was able to read about the clients and their information. I was able to read about their countries of origin, languages spoken, and the names of their family members. There were also pictures of every family member which made it easier to put their names with faces and recognize them when the came in to the office. I was also in charge of organizing all of the donations RST receives on a daily basis.
I learned a great deal while interning at Refugee Services of Texas. The most important thing was learning to be open minded to learning about new things and to be wary of cultural bias. I was able to work in a professional setting, which taught me much about workplace politics and how to act appropriately in that setting. I was also exposed to many new cultures and beliefs, not only of the refugees, but of my coworkers. I believe the most valuable of everything I have learned this past semester was the ability to build relationships with people I know nothing about and with whom I can communicate very little. I will never forget the people I met and how I made a difference in their lives.