Ann Van Reconnects by Working with Refugees

Syracuse is a refugee resettlement city, offering students the possibility of getting involved with this community, and interning at organizations assisting refugees. Ann Van is currently completing course work in Syracuse towards her MAIR degree.

My identity, ever since childhood, has centered around being Vietnamese‑American. These are words with a lot of meaning packed into them.

Vietnamese: I get this from my parents, and their parents, and their parents—but these folks are long gone.

The hyphen: war. A war turns me from Vietnamese to American. It pushes my parents up mountains, across oceans and out of the country.

 American: I am the first born in the new world. I have opportunity ahead of me. But even at a young age, I was trapped in being the provider—the parent to my parents. I deeply resented that hyphen for creating me and making me provide out of necessity.

It was only this past year that I tapped back into the world of migrants and new Americans by volunteering through the Syracuse University Program for Refugee Assistance (SUPRA). For a handful of reasons, I felt very lonely in Syracuse while studying at the Maxwell School. But on the first day with SUPRA, I felt like I was reliving the good parts of home.

This inspired me to reconnect with my refugee background, which led me to a summer internship with the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency (CRRA). CRRA is a small agency serving the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Over one hundred individuals from across the world were resettled over the summer. I met folks from countries I barely recognized on maps. (Can you find Eritrea?)

A couple things helped make this internship very fulfilling: 1) SUPRA prepared me for interacting and connecting with clients despite language, age or educational differences. I also taught classes to refugee clients, empowered by the experience I gained with SUPRA. 2) The global programs award* allowed me to intern full time, while many of my co-interns left midday to work part time jobs. The award also gave me freedom to take clients on special field trips—to landmarks, parks and local cafes—because my fuel bill was not covered by the agency.

This was a very meaningful internship for me, because I reconnected with moments of my past. I also found company in some resilient and impressive refugees who I continue to stay in touch with. I recommend that everyone use this time in their professional lives to pursue a meaningful experience. The global programs award and other resources at the Maxwell School serve to enhance these moments.

*Global Programs Awards are available to students pursuing off-campus opportunities.

At CRRA, clients are shown their first American park near the bus routes during transportation class.

At CRRA, clients are shown their first American park near the bus routes during transportation class.

At CRRA, clients went around the room pointing out their home countries on a map during cultural orientation class.

At CRRA, clients go around the room pointing out their home countries on a map during cultural orientation class.