Working with Refugees on the Path to Employment at IIB

I have so much to reflect upon about the beginning of my summer as a Workforce Development intern at the International Institute of Boston (IIB). IIB is a refugee resettlement agency, with two other locations, in Lowell, MA and Manchester, NH. When a refugee (or asylee, Cuban/Haitian entrant, or Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipient) is resettled in Boston, they are enrolled in Case Management, Employment Services, and English classes. I work with Employment Services. You can read IIB’s mission on their website, but to explain it in my own words, I will describe my job as a Workforce Development intern.

IMG_2744

This summer, IIB is in a temporary location, since their new building is under construction. Their interim space is now with the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), another non-profit with a goal of developing the workforce and promoting economic self-sufficiency.

My walk to AACA in Chinatown.
My walk to AACA in Chinatown.

I do many different projects and tasks with Employment Services. I create resumes for clients and then meet with them to review. I apply for jobs for clients after knowing their preferred positions and locations– the positions are mostly entry level, but the jobs vary on the English level of the client. I make retention calls to clients after they get jobs, and update the records, which is important for IIB to track how clients are doing in their jobs. Clients are enrolled in CRES or TAG, and both are funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, and you can read about them here. Something I did not expect was the amount of French I would be speaking (I took French from 6th-12th grade). I am often assigned to meet with Haitians with low-English literacy because I can translate material.

A big part of my job is teaching. On Mondays, I teach the Cultural Orientation Program (COP). New clients are enrolled in COP which runs for four weeks. This class covers living in the US, rights/ laws, education, personal finance, government, health/ hygiene, and sex ed. I never thought about these aspects of life in the US since I grew up here, but many of the clients come from countries where there are different cultural norms and expectations.I never pictured myself teaching consent to a group of young men from Somalia, but this internship always surpasses expectations.

On Fridays, another intern, Sylvia, and I lead the COP trip. Examples of the trips include the Freedom Trail, Boston Public Library, Harvard Square, and the State House. Also on Fridays, Sylvia and I teach the Workforce Orientation Workshop (coincidentally, another WOW acronym) to the same students in COP. After the trip, we give the students a break, and we prepare for the afternoon class, which also runs for four weeks. This class covers getting a job in the US, job etiquette and workplace standards, interview skills, and personal finance/ budgeting/ taxes. This class is a great way for people to learn about jobs they may have in the US, and how to apply and interview for them. It is difficult to find a job in a new country where you may not speak the language well, do not have professional references or a career network, and do not have an equivalent degree in the US to one you may have earned in your home country.

COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and who may have low levels of English proficiency.
COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and may have low levels of English proficiency.

My main goals for this summer were to see how this furthered my career interests and to apply what I am studying in school to my work. For my career interests, I have become more interested in non-profit management. For my academic goal, I have seen how my studies apply to my internship. I have been able to apply Politics and Economics classes, as well as certain classes like American Health Care. When I am teaching US policies, laws, and personal finance, I want to think more about what I have learned at Brandeis, and how it can help refugees who are assimilating to American social, political, and economic life.

I have already seen how rewarding the work can be– two brothers were recently resettled in Boston and enrolled in programs at IIB. From teaching them in COP and WOW, I could see how determined they were to get jobs. They were excited the day they received Social Security cards, which meant I could help them apply for jobs. I helped them apply for a job, took them to the local Citizens Bank to set up bank accounts, and practiced interview skills. In the same week, they each interviewed and were hired at the same full time job. After their first job, they can come back to IIB to enroll in the Service Industry Training Program or the Hospitality Training Program, and they can use any other employment service.

This is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to a fulfilling summer at IIB!

Emilie Kahn-Boesel ’18

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *