My internship with the International Rescue Committee

This story was published in FIU News by Yenisleidy Simon Mengana. 

Name: Pierina Anton

Hometown: Kissimmee, Florida

What is your major? International relations and political science

Where are you interning? The International Rescue Committee (IRC)

What is your title? Natural Helper / Youth Casework Intern

How did you find out about your internship? I learned about the internship through an e-mail sent out by FIU’s Global Learning Medallion program.

What are you doing there? As a Natural Helper, I assist the Youth Caseworker in matching undocumented migrants and refugees to social services in the Miami-Dade area. This includes pro-bono legal services, sliding scale and low-cost medical services, English and GED courses and transportation and food assistance, among others.

What projects are you working on? I am currently assigned a caseload of clients that I speak with on a regular basis to identify their needs and provide appropriate resources. Most recently, I was able to locate English lessons and a local trade school for a client that had graduated from high school and was interested in learning about car mechanics.

How does your internship connect back to your coursework? This internship provides a very real and personal perspective on the daily obstacles faced by refugees and migrants. My previous international relations coursework in international law and the challenges of refugees and migrants, gave me the foundation I needed to understand immigration policy and the difficulties associated with the vague definition of refugee given by the 1951 convention in Geneva. Through my work with clients, I now have a greater understanding of how U.S. policy impacts the ability of migrants and refugees to access basic services like health care and education.

What is the coolest thing about your internship or that has happened during your internship? Every time we are referred a new client, the IRC conducts a home visit where we go to the client’s home and fill out a hefty questionnaire to gain a better understanding of the client’s situation and their needs. Although I am not able to conduct home visits individually because of legal reasons, I recently had the opportunity to conduct a home visit under the supervision of my manager. I was responsible for completing the questionnaire and developing a personalized service plan for the client. I really enjoyed this because I had the chance to match the client to services I thought were best for the client’s goals and personal development.

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?  As someone who was once undocumented, “paying it forward” through my work with clients has been very rewarding, and at times, emotional.  Although every client’s story is different, all of them are here in search of a better life than they left back in their home country. Miami is a city born of immigrants, and I find it very humbling that I am contributing in some small way to the development of my clients’ goals and aspirations, and ultimately, equipping them with the resources they need to grow.

What have you learned about yourself? A lot of my work requires me to be consistent and intentional in the resources I provide and in the service plans I develop for my clients. Because of the nature of the IRC, we provide information to our clients in an effort to empower them to access the services themselves. If there are concrete barriers, such as lack of transportation or language barriers, then the IRC can step in to assist in the process, but a majority of the responsibility lies with the client. However, there are times when clients refuse services or do not use the information we provide them. While this can be frustrating at times, I have learned that it is necessary to be patient and compassionate, especially in the field of social work. It is crucial to ensure that the best resources are provided to the clients, even if sometimes they choose not to use them.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Don’t sell yourself short or think you aren’t qualified for a position even if you don’t have the specific experience they are looking for. I’m a big advocate for stepping out of your comfort zone in the internship process because you never know when you will find a new passion or interest. Also, take advantage of the resources FIU has to offer through the Global Learning Medallion ProgramHandshakethe Honors College, and FIU in DC. Internship opportunities are constantly sent out for a variety of interests and experiences, so keep up with your email!

How has the position increased your professional confidence? This position has really increased my communication skills. Because I am responsible for my own caseload, I constantly relay information back to my supervisor and my clients, so I have had the opportunity to enhance my professional communication skills on both fronts. Additionally, since a majority of the clients the IRC works with are from Central America, I have improved my professional language capacity in Spanish as well!

How has the internship expanded your professional network? My supervisor has been working in social services for a number of years, and even worked abroad (which I am particularly interested in for the future). This internship has allowed me to develop connections with individuals who can offer me strong, sound advice on the field and who can guide me in the rest of my collegiate (and soon to be post-graduate) journey.

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