Refugee Youth Education Internship at the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Erica Levenson (she/her), Global Studies ’21 A young woman with light brown wavy hair, fair skin, and blue eyes smiles at the camera, which is in front and slightly to the left of her. She wears a black graduation cap and tassel, red pleated graduation robe, and white stole over a blue/grey long, flowy, V-neck dress.
Minors: Race and Ethnicity, French Studies
Research / Social Justice

Project Description
As a Refugee Youth Education intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), I was responsible for ensuring that the IRC’s educational programs, which serve newly arrived refugee, asylee, and immigrant youth, ran smoothly. Through my internship, I became intimately familiar with the international refugee regime—the subject of my senior thesis. Although my thesis was not about the IRC, it would not be half of what it is without the real-world experience in the regime that my internship afforded me. The ELOA made it possible for me to gain professional experience, build connections, and produce an outstanding senior thesis that I will build off of in my master’s at The New School’s GPIA.

What Form will your Final Project Take?
Paper (thesis)

Who was supporting you in with work?
Jenna Campolieta, Project Mentor and Lang Part-Time Faculty; Alexandra Delano Alonso, Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Global Studies; Tania Aparicio Morales, Sociology PhD Candidate; Bernadette Ludwig, Global Studies Part-Time Faculty

How has this project has been impactful or transformative — for you personally or for those this work has impacted:
I began my senior thesis research to understand why the displacement responses created and pushed by the international refugee regime are failing, and through this understanding, to contribute to the reimagination of the regime. Importantly, the progression of my thesis—and my internship—resulted in a thorough interrogation of my own place in the world, bias, and privilege. The positionality that I was required to identify for the purposes of my thesis became an introspective journey, one I have continued in my life as a student, intern, and human. Either from reading my research, or through their own research and work, I hope that other young people and individuals working within the international refugee regime will realize—like I have—that privilege and power are everywhere, and aid is never “just aid.”

What would you do differently? How would you advise a student who is going to do something similar?
As a professional, I have learned many lessons throughout this project. Firstly, the line between personal and professional is often blurry, especially when it comes to client-facing work. Because client-facing work like I have done at the IRC is immensely rewarding, it can be difficult to leave work “at the office,” whether it is a physical office, a living room, or in my case a specific position on the couch or at the counter. I encourage anyone considering a position which includes client-facing work to spend some time with themselves and consider their ability to separate the personal from the professional. I have also learned that mistakes are going to happen, it is just their size and their gravity that is unknown. I had believed that if I worked hard enough, if I was dedicated enough, I wouldn’t make any mistakes. From my experience and time spent as a professional, I can report that this is certainly not the case. This is a fact that all young professionals need to sit with, and accept that it is not possible to learn without mistakes! What matters is that we learn and grow from them. Mistakes are not zero-sum, and any employer worth working for will simply want you to learn from them. Lastly, I would like to highlight to every young professional that you need to have confidence in yourself to have confidence in the work you are doing. Trust that you deserve to be in the seat that you are in and know that you are capable of much more than you realize.

Are you going to publish or print your work?
Yes, it is available via the Global Studies Archive.

Short summary
My work as an intern at the IRC informed my senior thesis, which investigates the root causes of the international refugee regime’s failing displacement responses. While not directly about the IRC, my internship shaped the direction of my research, my argument, and the framework I suggested for building better displacement responses. Moreover, my internship has informed the direction I will take my upcoming graduate studies in, allowed me to progress as a young professional, and given me the opportunity to build long-lasting professional connections that I will draw on in my future career.

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