Emily Ma Takes Unexpected Path from DC to Turkey

Emily Ma is a MAIR student who wrote this post last summer. She is currently interning at the U.S. Commercial Service in Taipei, Taiwan.

The course of my summer in Washington D.C. did not turn out as expected at all. I accepted an internship with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services under the Department of Homeland Security as a Pathways Intern. On the first day of the internship, I found myself assigned to the Refugee Affairs Division. Blindly diving into this internship, it has turned out to be a profoundly rewarding experience, and a potential turning point in my career.

A division that works rather under the radar (my supervisors have admitted), the Refugee Affairs Division is the adjudicating authority on all refugee applications into the United States.  The RAD Office (as the US Government – USG – is so fond of acronyms), is comprised of several different sections, but I was the intern for the Refugee Corps. Refugee Officers within the Refugee Corps are sent on monthly details around the world to adjudicate refugee applications after they have been referred to the United States by UNHCR. I had heard about refugee resettlement within the US, and RAD is the final security check, pre-arrival.

The first project with which I was tasked was to organize and coordinate a large hiring surge of officers for the division. I organized resumes, collected letters of recommendation, and had the opportunity to sit in on several interviews.

After successfully completing the first project within the first three weeks working at RAD, my supervisors decided to send me to Turkey as a fingerprinter on the next detail. Despite the several setbacks due to recent events in Turkey, the US Embassy in Turkey confirmed that it was safe for our team to continue the mission. So, somehow, here I am writing this blog post in Turkey. I’ve been working directly (fingerprinting can be surprisingly difficult at times) with refugees, and the Refugee Officers on my team allow me to observe their interviews with refugee applicants.

Working with refugees and leaving the country had most assuredly not been in my plans when I moved down to DC this summer, but I guess it just goes to show that you’ll never know where life will take you.

P.S. Refugee Officers want to make it clear that refugee adjudications are made by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Refugee Affairs Division, not the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Emily Ma at the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey
Emily Ma at the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey

Learn more about the Maxwell-in-Washington program

Emily Ma Finds Taiwan Unforgettable While at Foreign Commercial Service

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.