Student Voices: Chris Robinson

Chris's field experience at the International Institute in Saint Louis, MO

chrisChristopher Robinson (HRTS '14) gained valuable work experience at the International Institute of Saint Louis, by assisting the organization's Case Management Department as a Refugee Resettlement Intern. The International Institute of St. Louis offers comprehensive services for refugees and immigrants, including resettlement, immigration assistance, medical assistance, English classes, employment services, and even an urban farm. In turn, these newcomers expand the richness of Saint Louis' diversity and help revitalize the economy. 

Christopher's job as a Refugee Resettlement Intern was to help Case Specialists assist clients through the process of resettlement. When refugees first arrives in the country, a Case Specialist meets them at the airport and provides them with a culturally appropriate meal. Then they take the newly-arrived refugees to the residence of the Institute acquired for them. This is usually a bare minimum, furnished apartment in South Saint Louis city near the Institute. Throughout the process, the Case Specialist serves as a sort of social worker, assisting the refugees as they adapt to their new home. Sometimes this means setting up doctor appointments, filling out paperwork for clients, calling utility companies, or serving as a translator. 

Christopher decided to apply for this internship because of his interest in refugee rights, which resulted from taking multiple courses specifically dealing with refugee and migration issues. Having travelled internationally, he wanted to learn more about the experiences of people who are forced to travel and who lives depend on crossing borders. Ultimately, Christopher's goal was to broaden his worldview, from a human rights perspective, to be more inclusive of people from varying backgrounds and cultures. While he had many preconceived notions of what his internship experience would be like, he soon learned that his actual on-the-ground experiences would be different. Christopher realized, for instance, that the range of spoken languages at the Institute, meant that he could not use his Spanish skills as much as he anticipated. Instead, he had to overcome language challenges to interact with refugees from a variety of language backgrounds. 

Additionally, Christopher learned about the amount of work that goes into the refugee resettlement process for both the staff and the clients. For the staff, the sheer number of cases they must deal with makes it hard to facilitate every need for everyone. Institute staff must be able to handle almost any situation and know how to best assist the client. For clients, they must be willing to learn a new language, find a new job, and learn a new way of life - all in a place they are completely unfamiliar with. Christopher also learned about the large amounts of Cubans that are still coming to the United States and about the human rights abuses that are happening in Bhutan, hence the thousands of Bhutanese refugees now living in the Saint Louis community. He acquired many practical skills, including teaching things to people who do not speak the same language. 

Despite the many positive outcomes of his internship experience, Christopher sometimes felt aggravated by the lack of community awareness in Saint Louis regarding basic human rights. He believes it is people's duty, as humans, to help others when they are in need. In the case of refugees, these are people who migrated to save their lives and their families - not out of real choice. Sometimes Christopher also felt frustration because he was unable to verbally communicate with many clients. Luckily, he soon learned different ways to communicate and overcome those barriers. 

Overall, Christopher was inspired multiple times during his internship at the International Institute of Saint Louis. The willingness of staff to help their clients inspired him to help too, and focus his energy on assisting refugees. He was impressed by his clients' willingness to learn as  much as possible about their new culture, and this has inspired Christopher to experience more of the world's diverse cultures and communities. Finally, the self-confidence he gained from this experience has pushed him to continue his path toward a career in international human rights. 


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