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Getting a Global Perspective Locally

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LSSM Refugee Services intern, Lauren Muscott, shares her experience of her summer internship in refugee services.
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By Lauren Muscott

Every college student has been there. The spring semester is finally over. A seemingly endless expanse of time lies before you, time which you are expected to fill with a summer job or internship. This is the position I found myself in three months ago. Upon returning to Michigan after a semester abroad, I had absolutely no clue what I would do. I was already behind in the hunt because the prime time to apply for summer jobs and internships had passed while I was away.

With little hope of finding an internship on such short notice, I searched instead for local summer jobs, which yielded positions like gas station attendant and retail clerk. These jobs were okay--I was lucky there was anything available, and an income was nothing to scoff at. But I had hoped to find something that could incorporate my interest and potential career path in international affairs, even if it was only a volunteer position. I felt that there had to be an opportunity out there to fulfill my global interests while staying local, if only I knew where to look.

After my job hunt had hit a dead end, I decided I should at least look at what might be out there for internships. I came across an unpaid internship opportunity that involved working with refugees, offered through the Grand Rapids refugee resettlement program of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. This was exactly the type of opportunity I was looking for, so I contacted the volunteer director and expressed my interest. I was told to come in for an interview, and before long I became the summer writing intern. I am in my third month of interning with Lutheran Social Services, and I still cannot believe that such a great opportunity was right here in my own backyard.

What has astounded me in my time volunteering with Lutheran Social Services is how much I have learned from this experience. I have put together resumes for refugees, written articles published in The Rapidian online news website, conducted interviews, helped compile a volunteer manual that required researching our refugees’ countries of origin, added content to a website, and been responsible for updating the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages, not to mention the more traditional intern duties like filing and copying. Each of these assignments has developed skills I can take with me to any future internship, job or career. More than this, I have learned so much about what it means to be a U.S. citizen, something I took for granted, and about what things are going on in the world that do not get much if any coverage by the mainstream media.

The most incredible part about my internship is that I have enjoyed every minute of it! Lutheran Social Services of Michigan has provided a wonderful work environment, one that is fun and where I feel welcome every time I step into the office. Even though I am only the summer intern, I feel like my opinions are valued and that I am making a real difference for this organization by making more people aware of the great work that they are doing. The refugee program has also been wonderfully flexible with my schedule, allowing me to determine when and where I work. This flexibility carries over to my duties, as well. My supervisor has been amazingly open to my ideas for possible article topics and other projects. This article is a good example of this.

LSSM’s Refugee Services department offers everyone a variety of ways to volunteer, ranging from doing what I am doing -- working in the office and helping build community awareness -- to working directly with refugees and becoming a familiar and friendly face to these newcomers through their New Roots program. One thing I love about Lutheran Social Services is that they are all about tapping into the talents and skills of their volunteers. If you have some ideas regarding ways you’d like to volunteer, more likely than not they will be all for it and give you their full support. August 2011 is proving to be especially busy, with 30 new refugee arrivals this month alone. If you want to make a real difference in the Grand Rapids community for some of the most gracious and kind people you will ever meet, consider volunteering with refugees through Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. You will be given all the information you need, and the staff will be behind you every step of the way to provide guidance and support. I guarantee that you will be amazed at what a difference an individual can make.

Soon I will be packing up and heading back to college, falling back into my routine of schoolwork, my campus job, and spending time with friends. When I am sitting in my dorm room and taking a quick break from my piles of textbooks, I will look back at these past few months filled with an incredible sense of purpose and accomplishment, and know that I was able to make how I spent this summer matter.

If you are interested in volunteering, have ideas, or want to find out more, contact LSSM Volunteer Coordinator Dana Doll at [email protected] or (616) 356-1934.


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