I’ve always considered it a blessing to have been raised in an environment that exposed me to different types of peoples and cultures. I am one of a lucky few to have this blessing; the potlucks at my churches always presented a beautiful array of food originating from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. I prided myself in knowing that I was never truly a victim of culture-shocks—embracing and celebrating differences was natural— exciting, even.
Additionally, as a French major and an International Studies major with a political science emphasis, I have spent the past two and a half years delving deep into the histories, cultures, and current political environments of many different countries. I speak French and Spanish well enough to conversate. These are all things I was able to tell the Intern Coordinator at World Relief, a Christian based non-profit organization that works with helping refugees upon their entrance to America, that I believed both qualified me and made me excited for a position.
I became an intern at the Spokane location twice a week for 4-7 hours a shift under the lead Job Developer for refugees. Her job, as written, was to help connect refugees after they have settled in their first few weeks, to potential employers so that they can become self-sufficient. In my head, I imagined my job would be meeting with incoming refugees, interviewing and writing resumes with them, and connecting them directly with hiring jobs in the area. I was expecting to form relationships with the cases I worked with, and to utilize my cultural competency to navigate barriers in communication.
The stress, confusion, and disarray that was the U.S. removal of troops from Afghanistan shifted my role completely. This fall, World Relief was pressed for donations, for volunteers, and with the creation of a new Afghan parolee system specifically for helping the extremely large influx of Afghan refugees, all hands were on deck. It was an extremely unique time to start working for the organization—no longer was my role to simply be writing resumes, but, as my director explained, I wore many hats.
On a day-to-day basis, I juggled many tasks: sometimes I was taking my clients to job interviews, sometimes taking them to doctor’s appointments, and sometimes picking their kids up from school, and sometimes doing all of that and then some in a single afternoon. I had to learn how to drive and park a ten-seater van during my time there so I could help drive big families. My supervisor was amazing, and believed in the relationships formed more than just the bare minimum of the job, and wanted the same for me. I met with clients, but I also went to their houses, I brought their kids toys, and I helped them move to different apartments.
Forming these relationships could not have been more rewarding. Although knowing Dari, Pashto, Vietnamese, or Swahili would have been much more useful than French, I was able to connect to Francophone clients in a way that my coworkers could not. I became close to one of my clients from Congo, a young mother with four kids. Getting to know her and her kids was a highlight of my internship; seeing how she cared for her kids and engaged with all of the resources World Relief had showed her ambition to build a new life. It is so obvious to me that refugees in America are driven and intelligent. It is beyond me how anyone could claim that refugees and migrants have nothing to contribute when they are the people that seize every opportunity to build this country up.
However much joy there can be with working with refugees, working with people exiled from their country also requires a lot of sensitivity. Sometimes clients would share, sometimes they would not—seeing refugees not just as people immigrating, but as people that have had their lives completely changed (for many, in a matter of days), calls for empathy from the staff.
A client walked in one morning to speak with my supervisor, and was telling me a bit about the Taliban activity in his village far from Kabul. He showed me pictures of hundreds of Afghans standing in a plane, packed like sardines to get to America. Afterward, he told me about his family that had to escape to Kabul where they would not be identified as being associated with him at all. This was because he drove trucks that transported goods to the US military as work. I was in charge of this individual’s entry interview, and I remember asking him, “You’ve been here for about a week, what do you like most about Spokane thus far?” He replied, “Me and my family are safe.”
While every refugee’s story is different, most of the refugees I spoke with had stories just as intense. They made me think hard on everything I take for granted in the US. While the United States has plenty of its own pressing problems and structural issues, I have never feared for my life in the way many of these individuals have; it was a very unique time of reflection for me.
Besides the work itself, the work environment was absolutely amazing. I think the work environment is unlike any other. My colleagues embody family. They care for each other and for their clients, and it is reflected in how many clients come back to either work for, work with, or simply spend time with the staff of World Relief. They are extremely driven towards their mission, and love working with interns and volunteers. I recognize that my experience was unlike any other, and I am grateful for everyone I met and every experience I had.
As I move forward in my career, I will always think of the dedicated staff and driven refugees at World Relief.
Alexis Dubreuil interned with World Relief Spokane during Fall/Winter 2021. She is a student at Whitworth University studying International Studies and French. Thank you for being part of our team, Alexis! Click here for a list of available internship opportunities.