In the Spring of 2018, I studied abroad in Rome, Italy. During my time abroad, I decided to take a course entitled Service Learning and Active Citizenship, which gave me the opportunity to intern at a local organization related to my field of study, Political Science.
I was matched with an organization called the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center (JNRC). The JNRC is a day center located in the underground crypt of St. Paul’s Within the Wall Episcopal Church in the heart of Rome. Every day, this refuge offers a range of services to over 300 refugees and migrants from all over the world. My main roles at the JNRC revolved around fundraising and instructing language courses.
Hands down, interning a the JNRC was the most challenging aspect of my study abroad experience, and yet, it was without a doubt the most fulfilling.
Here are the top four personal life skills I improved upon by pursuing an internship abroad:
One of my responsibilities at the JNRC was to contact the over 70 American businesses with a location in Italy to establish relationships with them as potential donors and partners. (If I haven’t said it yet, I did not speak a bit of Italian, and this made this assignment extremely frustrating and difficult.)
For over 70 phone calls, I introduced myself, the JNRC and asked if there was anyone who I could speak to who spoke English (I learned how to say this much in Italian). Though sometimes I was greeted with a friendly “Hello, I speak English,” other times, I was not, and the call was abruptly ended.
After several days of this, I found myself discouraged and not wanting to carry on with the project. However, I knew how import this work was and knew that if I decided to quit, the JNRC would miss out on opportunities to better serve the many deserving and needy guests. Despite the constant rejections, I persevered and reached out to every organization the list which ended up creating over two dozen meetings.
The most difficult part of this internship was the language barrier. I was asked to assist and instruct introduction and intermediate level English classes. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the guests and I were experiencing a significant language barrier; I tried to teach them in English, and they would ask me questions in the little bit of English or Italian they knew.
In an unexpected turn of events, I realized that myself and many of the guests from West and Northern Africa shared another language: French! I had previously studied it for seven years! Using my prior knowledge of the French language, I was able to communicate with some of the guests who were struggling to help them better understand assignments or answer questions they were not yet able to articulate in English.
3. Time Management
Determined to accomplish both, I kept a detailed schedule when I planned to complete my hours, take trips around Italy and any other countries I was interested in visiting, and when I planned to complete my course work. I can honestly say I was more on top of my day-to-day schedule while abroad than ever before.
Like every other study abroad student ever, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to travel around Europe while I was on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike most study abroad students though, I was required to get a set number of hours at my internship by the end of the semester.
4. Cultural Sensitivity
As I said earlier, the JNRC welcomed over 300 guests from all over the world every day. This allowed me to interact with people from various nations, cultures, languages, religions, backgrounds, educations, professions, races, and ethnicities. Being in such an environment granted me the chance to learn how to be mindful of my mannerisms, the things I said, and the ways I interacted with others in an effort to not make anyone feel unwelcome or offended.
Over the course of this semester, I witnessed the true dedication of the staff and volunteers of the JNRC to impact the lives of those in need. I am grateful to know that I also was also able to contribute to that impact. I truly admire the environment of dignity, kindness, and charity that the staff and volunteers have created.
Engaging with people from different cultures and backgrounds was an invaluable experience. The work was challenging yet fulfilling — the best kind of work. After this experience, I truly felt like I could take on any task thrown my way.
As I am now preparing to enter a career of public service, I will always be able to carry with me the spirit of generosity and genuine compassion that has been enriched throughout my experience in Rome at the JNRC.
If the opportunity to intern while you are abroad is available to you, I highly encourage you to consider taking advantage of it. It may turn out to be the most impactful and life-changing thing you do.