An Intern’s Experience with Reconnecting Families: Growing Personally and Professionally

Restoring Family Links Interns (left to right) Lainey Schmidt, Megan Norris, Victoria Anderson, and Jackie Ramsay

Restoring Family Links Interns (left to right) Lainey Schmidt, Megan Norris, Victoria Anderson, and Jackie Ramsay

Story by Victoria Anderson, Intern, Washington, DC

I remember the exact moment that I received my offer letter e-mail. I was on my way home from work on the metro, slumped from the busy Friday I was having. I opened my e-mail for the brief moment that I had internet while on the train and my smile was wider than it had ever been.

As a rising senior at American University, obtaining an internship is something expected from everyone. But as a transfer student from community college, it was harder for me since I had barely been in DC for a year. I thought I was the last person in this city who was going to get an internship, let alone one at the American Red Cross. But, here I am!  And I am so elated and grateful that I was given this opportunity by such a humble, loving, amazing group of people.

The specific role I have in the Restoring Family Links program is helping Mark Owens, our Africa and Middle East caseworker. He helps reconnect families separated by conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies throughout a region known for its instability. I knew it would be tough work because during my interview I was told that he had the largest case load.

So when I started, I got right to work. I had training sessions with the best of the best, Susan and Jessica. They taught me all about the database I would be working in. For two days I thought to myself, “this will be simple—I’ll probably just have some technical difficulties.”

I could not have been more wrong. Yes, technical difficulties were present but there were bigger problems—understanding the clients. On the fourth day as Mark took me through the database, I marveled at his expertise. All I thought was, “this guy knows so much!” Name patterns, conflict areas, languages, cultures and customs. Imagine knowing all of those things for 60 plus countries! I was amazed and continue to be. I have learned so much about the world through a database and the Restoring Family Links staff. While I gathered an immense amount of global knowledge interning here, I also learned a lot about my own backyard!

Early in the internship, the team went to a World Refugee Day event in Silver Spring, Maryland just outside of DC. Here, we set up phone booths for local refugees to call their loved ones back home. We also attended a meeting about refugees in the area.

This was perhaps the most enlightening meeting I have had since coming to DC. Several organizations talked about the work they were doing for local refugee communities. One organization helps resettle Ethiopian refugees coming to the United States another Salvadoran refugees. The figures they were throwing out astonished me! How had I lived in DC for so long, studying international relations no less, but had no idea that there was so much happening only an hour away from me? I was amazed and inspired—a consistent trend during my time here at the Red Cross.

As students, we expect internships to be mundane. We expect to copy papers and grab coffee for our bosses. Luckily for me, I never had that expectation. I knew that this team was going to make me work, and they did, but they also taught me more than I ever expected. From Katie and Anna, sharing stories about their AmeriCorps experiences, to Jon talking about grad school and Mark enabling me to learn about a new culture every day—I have grown both professionally and personally. I could not be more thankful that I had this experience when I did. Thank you RFL staff, you are all insanely amazing people.