The Christianson Grant was instrumental in providing me with significant experience in an international organization abroad and the opportunity to see how intercultural communication skills are essential to working as a human rights advocate. The grant enabled me to do a seven-month internship with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) in Bangkok, Thailand, where I provided programmatic support to a number of ongoing projects at the Secretariat of APRRN.
APRRN is a network of over 220 organizations and individuals working to advance the rights of refugees in the Asia-Pacific Region. Through the Secretariat, APRRN strengthens the capacity of members, facilitates sharing of information and good practices, and conducts joint advocacy on a number of refugee rights issues.
As an intern, I was able to live and work full time in Bangkok, which forced me into many challenging but rewarding situations. I learned Thai in order to communicate with my favorite shopkeepers, waitresses, beauticians, and others during day-to-day interactions. I also tried learning the basics of languages common among the refugee populations, such as Urdu and Arabic. However, my language skills did not get very far, and I instead learned to quickly evaluate indirect communications, such as body language and tone. This skill set is highly transferrable and will be useful in any setting for a human rights advocate and lawyer. I also learned how to better communicate through interpreters by strengthening my relationships with the community interpreters and English-speaking members of the refugee communities. Through these interactions, I saw how different speech patterns or word choices had a significant impact on their level of understanding and clarity.
In addition to daily communication issues, working in a regional organization allowed me to see how many different ways organizations approach local, national, and international advocacy. I sat in on numerous meetings with participants from countries across the region and saw how different cultures influence different styles of communication and result in different perspectives on problem solving. I was also able to lead discussions on highly sensitive topics during a short course on gender and forced migration, where I explained to 20 human rights advocates about gender identity and societal expectations for women and girls. For many of these participants, it was their first time really working with such issues or even considering the implications of those issues on their advocacy and the lives of their clients. It was an incredible experience and challenged me to sensitively address difficult questions and culturally-specific reactions in a professional and open-minded manner.
Lastly, my internship with APRRN included two trips abroad for work. First, I went to Jakarta, Indonesia, for a government roundtable event where officials met with local civil society organizations to discuss ending the immigration detention of children. I was so glad to see a general consensus that such detention practices are unethical, and I was inspired to see these participants, who are often seen as conflicting, work together toward a solution. I also attended a feasibility assessment site visit at the end of March in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I met with local civil society organizations. At this visit, we discussed how a national roundtable on urban refugee issues could help Nepali civil society increase its dialogue and advocacy space with the government.
I greatly appreciate that the Christianson Grant and the InterExchange Foundation enabled me to have this experience. I believe that my previous experience in the field made this grant incredibly useful for furthering my career and had a significant impact on APRRN’s ability to support groundbreaking advocacy in the region. While I may not be the strength behind APRRN, interns that are independently funded - and can thus dedicate full time to their work - are essential to the growth and development of the Network and all of its projects. I wish to thank the InterExchange Foundation for this opportunity on behalf of myself and of APRRN!