“Summer” Internship in Lübeck, Germany

That’s me! Photo and backdrop courtesy of my friend and fellow CISLA class of 2019 member Sami, who will be in Germany too this spring/summer!

Guten Tag, CISLA blog readers! I am Lanie, class of 2019, German Studies major and History/English minor, writing to you from Lübeck, Germany. Lübeck is a city in northern Germany (population around 214,000) and a popular tourist destination: in the winter for its Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) and in the summer for the seaside resort Travemünde. However, the tourist attractions are not what brought me here, as appealing as they sound. I am here for the wide network of refugee- and migrant-related organizations present in Lübeck. I initially applied to do my CISLA internship with Sprachpartnerschaften Lübeck (Conversation Partners Lübeck), a program that matches Lübeck locals with refugees/migrants for casual German language practice and exchange of experiences and cultural information. The organization was unable to accommodate an intern, but one of the program’s leaders, Dr. Imke Lode, also works as an independent intercultural consultant and trainer, and she offered to let me work with her for the two months that I’m here.

The St.-Marien-Kirche in the Altstadt. An absolutely beautiful building to spend a couple hours wandering around in.

My internship with Imke has two parts: first, I am assisting her with research on the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, cultures of remembrance, and their relevance to refugee/migrant life in Germany. This I do mostly from her home office or the Stadtbibliothek (public library). Second, she has set me up with four or five “mini-internships” with a few of the many organizations that work with refugees in the Lübeck area. Sometimes this takes the form of attending a workshop put on by the organization, sometimes it involves visiting their office for a day or two and learning how they operate day-to-day business. Some examples so far: an all-day women’s music workshop featuring TonTalente (CISLA student Aidan ’18 interned with them last year!), a community brunch with migrants, refugees, and local Germans, a seminar led by Imke for non-German mothers on what the German cultural norms are regarding Kindergarten/elementary school, and a half day at the Sprachpartnershaften office where I observed initial interviews with prospective German conversation partners. My schedule is different every week, and I almost never work the traditional 9-5 day. Some workshops and events are in the evening, so I usually schedule my research time around those.

Whether in Connecticut or Germany, I always spend quite a lot of time at libraries! The Public Library in Lübeck is a beautiful mix of the Altbau (old building) and Neubau (new construction).
I love the natural light and openness of the library!!

I am also teaching beginning English to refugees. This was not part of my plan when I came here, but I happened to be at the right place at the right time and before I knew it I was agreeing to hold English lessons twice a week! Our class is made up of eight or so participants, mostly men, but one woman and a couple girls who are in middle-/high-school. Between the eight of them, their countries of origin are about evenly divided between Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They all have a working knowledge of German, but they have really varying levels of English knowledge. Some I think are starting entirely from scratch, while some spent years learning English at home but haven’t been able to work on it lately. Teaching English has turned out to be really difficult for some reasons that I anticipated and some I didn’t. I expected it would be hard to teach my native language, since I never “learned” English the way they need to learn it. I also expected that my lack of background/training in teaching would mean I’m sort of going into this blind and improvising my way through. The surprise challenges have been: First, as I mentioned before, no two people in my class are at exactly the same level of English. Second, there are three different Muttersprache (mother tongues) in my class: Tigrinya, Dari (Persian/Farsi), and Arabic. So although I can kind of “tailor” my lessons — an “English for German speakers” type of thing — I can’t, for example, teach “English for Arabic speakers”, because not everyone in my class speaks Arabic as their first language or even at all. Third, it seems that almost all schools in Germany (maybe even in Europe) teach British English, and that the “big English test” (as I call it) is on British English. I’m worried that learning American English may do more harm than good if they end up having to re-learn everything British-style. And fourth, I’m only here for another month–not an ideal arrangement for teaching a language; a long-term commitment would be better.

So, given my many fears and my lack of formal teacher-training, this whole thing could have easily been a disaster, but my students have been so patient and understanding with me that even when there’s a communication breakdown I feel confident that we can all get through it together. They are also all super eager to learn English, so I think they are exceptionally tolerant of my occasional difficulty with explaining things. I’m glad I was open to doing something far outside of my comfort zone, because it’s gone a lot better than I expected, and has been a really valuable and interesting (and challenging!) experience.

The Lübeck Dom, seen from across the river on one of the few days it’s been sunny with blue skies here. Fun fact: one of my German professors at Conn, Prof. Machtans, is from Lübeck, and I met up with her last week while she was visiting over winter break!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for only a couple weeks. My days are so busy that it feels like I’ve done a month’s worth of research, lessons, activities, workshops, and walking around the Altstadt (Old City). And, most surprisingly, I’ve become a pro at navigating the bus routes! I think I come across as kind of weird to Germans because when they ask me what I think of Germany so far, I immediately start gushing about how amazing their public transportation system is. I also get really amped about old buildings. I’m so dazzled by all the churches here, most of which were built in the 1300s or earlier. I don’t count myself as a religious person but standing in a cathedral alone, in silence, was exceptionally humbling. Also, the St.-Marien-Kirche in Lübeck has the world’s largest pipe organ! If only I’d thought to take organ lessons before I came to Europe…

Every Thursday night there is an “Internationaler Stammtisch” at a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bar in the Altstadt, where Germans and non-Germans gather to chat in whatever languages they speak and get to know each other (and each other’s cultures) while enjoying their beverages of choice. I’ve gone once so far, and it was a really fun experience! Quite a few people were there, mostly around my age, and around the table you could hear at least three different languages at any given moment. People often changed language mid-sentence depending on who they were talking to, and people would also end up leaning across the table in order to talk to the one other person who speaks their language. It was a bit chaotic, but a beautiful kind of chaos.

I miss my dog at home, but I’ve found a new dog friend here at my homestay in Germany! He is a rescue dachshund and does not trust humans very much, but he warmed up to me pretty quickly. Probably helped that I played with him, scratched his tummy, and fed him treats. Now he whines when I go upstairs in the evening, and sometimes even whines in the morning until I come down. (He can’t go up stairs because his legs are too short!)

Well, I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for reading my blog post and stay tuned for more from CISLA students over the summer! I’m doing my internship in January/February instead of during the summer because the spring semester at German universities is actually a summer semester: it starts in mid-April and goes until the end of July—so I wouldn’t have time for a six-week internship if I had to wait until August to start it. And, of course, everyone at Conn is going back for spring semester now, while I still have a little over two months before I start school—though this does also mean that as everyone at Conn is getting ready for finals, I’ll be getting ready for my first day of classes at University of Tübingen!!!! So, to everyone back at the ranch, have a wonderful spring semester. To my friends abroad, I look forward to hearing about your adventures. Tschüss!

The Jakobikirche, across from the bus stop I use to get in and out of the Altstadt.

Summer Internship in Beirut, Lebanon

As I sit in my apartment on the eve of my second-to-last day in Beirut, I am astounded at how quickly the summer has ended.  It seems like not too long ago, on the first day of my internship, I was anxiously over-explaining myself in Arabic to the armed security outside the UNRWA Lebanon field office compound.  Just a few days ago, I smiled goodbye to the same guards, whose friendly faces I will now miss.

I spent the summer working in the Programme Support Office (PSO) at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Lebanon Field Office (LFO) in Beirut, Lebanon.  (If you can’t already tell, the UN is all about acronyms). My official title was “Humanitarian Support Intern,” but in reality I did much more than that.  From planning and attending events, to writing security briefings and progress reports, to taking meeting minutes, I was lucky to become involved in a variety of tasks and to learn about many projects and departments. The reason for this is that PSO’s goal is essentially its name – to support the programs of all the other departments (i.e. Education, Relief and Social Services, Donor Relations) and liaise between Headquarters and LFO (Lebanon Field Office), as well as between the Director of UNRWA for Lebanon and the various LFO departments.  PSO conducts lots of reporting and updating, as well as monitoring and evaluations of the camps, in order to make sure that UNRWA operations in Lebanon run smoothly.

My desk at the office

UNRWA is unique among UN organizations in that it serves a very specific group of people: Palestine refugees.  It was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949, to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees.  In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.  Today the United Nations agency is responsible for the protection, care, and human development of a population of some 4.7 million Palestine refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Syrian Arab Republic.  The Agency is committed to assisting Palestine refugees in maintaining a decent standard of living, acquiring appropriate knowledge and skills, enjoying the fullest possible extent of human rights, and leading a long and healthy life.  It is also by far the largest UN operation in the Middle East with over 29,000 staff.  Most of the staff members are refugees themselves, working directly to benefit their communities – as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, and field office employees.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of working for UNRWA for me was that every day I interacted with refugees who were not simply Agency beneficiaries, but also my colleagues.  It meant that my understanding of what it means to be a refugee became even more complex, as my colleagues had varying opinions on UNRWA, Israel/Palestine, and their displacement.  Adding to these dynamics was the fact that the guarded compound where I worked sat right across the street from one of Beirut’s largest refugee camps, Shatila.  It was one thing to be researching and writing about the lives and identity of Palestinian refugees from my dorm room at Conn, and entirely another to be seeing the displacement firsthand – both within my office and next door to it.

I wrote camp, but Shatila – and many of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon – are not “camps” in the traditional sense.  Rather, they are small cities-within-cities, and it is not always easy to tell where one neighborhood ends and the “camp” begins.  My first experience seeing a refugee camp akin to those often seen in the news, where homes are not buildings but tents, actually occurred during a guided tour to Baalbek and Anjar in north-eastern Lebanon.  The Roman and Umayyad ruins at these sites were stunning to behold, but I was most affected by the sight of several small encampments housing Syrian refugees, as the ruins lie right on the border with Syria.

Umayyad ruins touch the Syrian border in Anjar, Lebanon

Living in Lebanon is a paradoxical experience.  Buildings torn apart by bullet holes from the civil war or bombs from Israel stand next to new skyscrapers.  When I asked a local about this, I was told that some of the war-devastated buildings were left as tributes to what was lost, and as reminders for what the future could hold.  Additionally, after living in Jordan during my study abroad, it was a strange sight for me to see the diversity on the streets of Beirut: it was just as common to see a woman in a hijab as it was to see one uncovered.  It was also just as common to see a Ferrari whizzing by as to feel the tug of a homeless child’s fingers on your shirt as you walk, begging for money or food.  Lebanon’s nature and historical sites are marvelous, but its sites are at risk due to the high pollution and lack of preservation laws.  I found myself captivated by it all every day, and I will certainly miss this vibrant place.

Old and new

I hesitate to write too much in this post, knowing that my experience cannot possibly be summed up in any amount of words, but look forward to catching up with my CISLA classmates in the fall and continuing to share my memories.  In Beirut, as you wave farewell, you might hear any of the following: Yalla bye! Maa salameh! Allah Ma-ik! Au revoir! Allah yaselmek! Bye!


CISLA Internship in Jordan

I am leaving Jordan early tomorrow morning. I have mixed feelings about this. I cannot wait to eat my mom’s Korean food and enjoy watching the sunset on the Temple Green at our college. At the same time, I know I will be missing the wonderful time I had in Jordan with my host family and friends.

For my CISLA internship, I worked with Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development-Legal Aid (ARDD-Legal Aid), a local NGO that aims to actively contribute to a just and stable society, free of inequality and conflict. Its primary role involves the provision of legal aid services to the most vulnerable members of society who cannot access or afford legal protection. Although Jordan’s summer was sometimes brutal, my time at the internship eased the stress and helped me forget about the heat.

I still vividly remember my first day at ARDD-Legal Aid. As I came close to the Third Traffic Circle, I constantly checked the GPS on my phone to see I was going to the right location. I made sure I arrived at the organization at nine sharp. After singing my internship agreement with her, my internship coordinator gave me a tour of the office. Everyone smiled at me and said “Welcome aboard.” From that first day, I definitely knew I was going to enjoy my time and work with heartwarming people.

Although my research unit team members were not actually expecting me to arrive on that date, they quickly welcomed me and assigned me tasks to do. It seemed like the research unit had a lot of projects going on simultaneously (And they always do!). They always made sure that I was kept very busy. The moment I met my team, I was asked to make data entries and write an annotated bibliography for coming projects. I was also given the responsibility to write reports.

One of the most memorable tasks I was in charge of was writing an UN-funded toolkit (i.e. guidelines) on how legislators, educators and journalists can address and combat violence against women and girls. Although it was my first time writing a paper like that, my research team trusted me. I will never forget the countless meetings we had to complete the toolkit. I would not have able to complete the paper successfully without the constant encouragement and feedback from my research unit team.

[1] On my last day at ARDD-Legal Aid, my research unit team surprised me with chocolate cake and a farewell party.
In addition to my internship, I kept myself busy because I wanted to make the most of my time in Jordan. My day usually started with my CrossFit class at CrossFit Quicksand, which was just across the street from my apartment. Before leaving for my internship site at 8:30 am, I would go to my class at 6:00 am. I actually started CrossFit in Jordan and surprisingly fell in love with it. I have to find a way to continue my CrossFit once I return to New London. Somehow, I unexpectedly found my new hobby in Jordan.


[2] My “students” and I awkwardly standing in front of the whiteboard at the CRP on my last volunteering day. 

I also volunteered twice a week at a local organization called the Collateral Repair Project that provides humanitarian assistance to urban refugees in East Amman. After my day working at the internship, I taught English to urban refugees in the late afternoons. It was bit difficult to find transportation to East Amman, so it would always take me at least one hour to get to my volunteering site. Nevertheless, I was happy that I was able to use my knowledge and practice my Arabic.

After the holy month of Ramadan, I invited Jordanian friends and my host family (from the study abroad semester) to my CISLA apartment. I often cooked Korean food for them and they brought Arab desserts in exchange. Some of my Jordanian friends also cooked Arab dishes like maqluba at home. Sometimes the cooking did not go as planned, but it was nice to catch up with each other in the air-conditioned apartment. (It makes a big difference in summer here).


[3] This is a picture with my friends, Ahmad and Ian, in my CISLA apartment.


[4] My host family really treated me like their own son. I will miss my time with them at the kitchen and dinner table.

I also spent a lot of my time with my Jordanian friends whom I met at the University of Jordan while I was studying abroad. They asked me last semester if I could help them with their YouTube channel called Jordan’s Korean Dream. This YouTube channel aims to introduce the Middle Eastern culture, especially Jordanian culture, and teach basic Arabic conversation to the target audience of interested Koreans.

I was only able to help them twice during the academic semester because we did not have enough time for it. So, I concentrated all my efforts on producing more videos during my last two weeks here in Jordan. We made videos on public transportation, cooking popular Jordanian/Palestinian foods, and mini trips to tourist areas. This video-making process helped me organize my thoughts and reflect on my time in Jordan.


[5] I worked with these two amazing friends, Hayat and Leno, on the YouTube videos.

Jordan will always remain deep in my heart and I look forward to coming back again if the opportunity arises. The invaluable experiences I have gained in Jordan could not have been possible without the help of our CISLA program. My time in Jordan has helped me to become a more independent person and given me opportunities to think carefully about my post-graduation life.

As I write this blog entry, I ask myself several questions and I wonder if I have been really fulfilling our CISLA mission of becoming a “global citizen who is culturally sensitive, politically and socially motivated and intellectually engaged.” Honestly, I think I will carry this question to my graduation ceremony.


[6] Jordan offers a lot of valleys and hills, which are great for hiking and riding a bicycle. This is a picture I took on my bicycling trip to Um-Qais, where you get to see the Golan Heights.

“Bonjour, l’élan retrouvé”

Salut mes amis, hello friends,

While I embarked from Paris for a summer spent working with the youth of the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal (Pikine and Thiaroye) to learn about the social factors that influence addiction, I ended up finding myself back in Paris, where I had been studying abroad since January. In Dakar, I was working with an NGO that helped prevent “idleness” among the youth by providing sports and other activities as a form of drug prevention.

Now, I spend my days at a day hospital (l’hôpital de jour d’addictologie et psychiatrie) in the 13th arrondissement of Paris that works with patients who suffer from drug addiction and  psychological disorders such as depression, psychosis and schizophrenia. It is one location of the larger organization l’élan retrouvé.

I am a behavioral neuroscience major and french minor. In the neuroscience department, I have been researching the effects of binge alcohol exposure on the reward system, and if it creates a predisposition to use other drugs, specifically amphetamines. So, I did not have a whole lot of psychological or psychiatric background going into this internship.

Here at the day hospital, I shadow and work side by side with psychiatrists, psychologists, an “addictologist,” nurses, and social workers. My role is between being a very attentive wall flower, making the endless café, participating in  workshops, and having to give a lot of observations and opinions about what I see. Before this internship, I had little exposure to working with drug addiction or psychological disorders outside an academic or lab setting. Therefore, interacting with patients seemed daunting and unclear at first, especially as someone who really knows more about the science of drugs (physiologically)  than the psychology of people. It has proven to be quite a rewarding experience though.

Every day, there are multiple “groups” that the patients can participate in that include : photo, art therapy, dance, talking groups, biking, free time, video games, singing, philosophy, ‘nature & discover’ and a few more. Helping with the groups is how I spend most of my day, and the rest I sit in on interviews with patients, or twiddle my thumbs (while snacking on the endless pastries my co-workers bring in every morning) at the reception desk when all the patients decide the weather is not good enough to leave the house.

By now, I know most of the regular patients by name and can tell from their behavior what kind of day they are having. It’s an internship that really has shown me the power of human interaction, art therapy, and letting go of worries. I’m the first ‘international’ intern they’ve had so the patients get excited learning I’m from California, and ask me about LA, San Francisco, or practice their English with me. It’s nice to know that a small distraction and my American accent can bring small pleasure to people who have suffered a lot in their lives.

Some of the highlights so far have been: row boating in a small lake by Chateau Vincennes, learning to tango, learning shiatsu, biking through Paris to the bois de Vincennes, and patients remembering who I am.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the center or patients doing activities because of confidentiality reasons, but here is bois de vincennes, where I have been twice with the patients: once to row boats and again to bike, it’s quite a beautiful corner of the city!

Bois de Vincennes


À bientôt,



“le temps est proche où les femmes deviendront des êtres humains.” –Ghada Hatem, the founder and chief doctor at la Maison des Femmes.

Hello from Paris! I hope that everyone’s summers have been fantastic; I cannot wait to hear about all of them when we are back at Conn. This summer I have been in Paris, France. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by and that I am heading back to the states in a few short weeks. This summer has been a whirlwind, filled with challenges and growth, but has been a truly amazing experience.

I started off the summer working at Reid Hall, which is the global center here in Paris run by Columbia University. Reid Hall hosts several study abroad programs, giving them a place to hold their classes as well as hosting international scholars throughout the year. In the office, there was constantly planning for events and contacting scholars regarding their work. At Reid Hall, I worked on making their center more visible to the greater community. I was originally supposed to work on a project (that ended up falling through) regarding gender-based violence. Although this project fell through, I was able to listen to several lectures that had previously been held at the center and became deeply interested in the topic of violence against women. Through a connection at Reid Hall, I found La Maison des Femmes, which I am currently working at now, for the remaining two weeks of my internship.La-maison-des-femmes-saint-denis-hopital-delafontaine

La Maison des Femmes is a center in Saint-Denis, which is right outside of Paris, that welcomes all women who are vulnerable to or have been victims of violence. Opened in July of 2016, the team of women here hopes to create a concrete and pragmatic response to three main focuses. The three areas that the center focuses on are domestic violence, family planning, and female genital mutilation. The team is consistent of psychologists, gynecologists, psychiatrists, osteopaths, family planning councilors, etc. It has been a really great experience getting to work here and observe how this unique and important center is. I am looking forward to finishing up these last few weeks at my internship and getting to be more involved with the process of the functioning of the house! See you all very soon!

Visit to La Loma de San Cristobal

IMG_0011.JPGSaludos a todos y todas! I hope all of your summers are going well. In case y’all didn’t know, I (Julie) am doing my CISLA internship in Medellin, Colombia this summer. I arrived almost exactly a month ago and have 6 more weeks to go! Time is really flying by, and I still can’t believe that I’m here. Before arriving to Colombia, I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina from February to June with the School for International Training (SIT), and although I loved Buenos Aires, I’m really happy to be in Medellin and am amazed every day at how beautiful and innovative this city is. Plus it was winter in BA when I left, so it was the perfect time come to the city known as “The City of Eternal Spring” and bring out the shorts and Birkenstocks again.

As an international relations major with a focus on human rights, CISLA has provided me with the opportunity to pursue and expand my research on Colombia’s civil conflict and recent peace accord with a local NGO called Corporacion Region. For those of you who don’t know, the Colombian government and the main guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), signed a peace accord last November which ended the 52-year conflict that affected millions. Region works to establish peace in Antioquia, the province that Medellin is in, by working with victims of the civil conflict that live in and outside of Medellin and with local governments to implement the agreements outlined in the peace accord. Some of this work includes holding workshops to spread awareness and educate the public about the peace accord (why it’s important, what it means for them, what it means for Colombia, what happens next, etc.), educating victims about their rights, facilitating access to education and educational materials for children, and creating community projects in communities of displaced people to combat violence, drug abuse, and promote education and art.

To give you an example of the kinds of events that Region helps organize, my first week here, I went to a forum discussion/workshop on the upcoming truth commission that will begin within the next year as part of the agreements of the peace accord. Participants included representatives from other NGOs in the area, victims of the armed conflict, including displaced people and people who have loved ones who were killed or disappeared, and other human rights leaders who took part in creating the peace accord. Much of the discussion that went on that day was about what kind of truth we want in Medellin, how we can look for that truth in the short amount of time we have (this truth commission is only three years), and how we can include the victims in this process, recognize what happened to them, and find meaningful and sustainable solutions and reparations. A lot of people raised concerns that the truth commission isn’t sanctioned for enough time, and called for the need to sort of pick and choose what kind of truth we want to look for, because it will be impossible to investigate everything. Others emphasized the importance of including victims in the process and listening to victims with respect. This event was super interesting for me to participate in and I honestly felt like I was witnessing history being made given the important discussions going on about the future of Colombia. I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to be here!

What I really wanted to write about in this post was my experience today. Because the project I was originally supposed to be working on has been delayed for a variety of reasons, I joined another one that my other colleagues are working on that’s a little different, but still touches on similar themes. My colleague Carolina invited me to accompany her to a town on the outskirts of Medellin called La Loma de San Cristobal. Region currently has a project going on there sponsored by the UNHCR called “Fortalecimiento de los colectivos de jóvenes de la Vereda La Loma” or “Strengthening of youth groups in La Loma.” La Loma is home to several victims of displacement, who’s population increased significantly in 2011 and 2012 when around 70 families were forcibly displaced from their homes in a nearby town and moved here. As a result of the dramatic increase in population, combined with an already violent and poverty-stricken community, violence in La Loma grew and the community became more divided and violent. Many left, and those who stayed remained in their houses out of fear and for lack of safe community centers for themselves and for their children – many schools, libraries, and recreational centers were forcibly shut down by paramilitary gangs called BACRIM. Eventually, the UNHCR and other NGOs got involved in the community to begin creating activities for the youth to meet each other, make friends, and in general give them something to do that didn’t involve either joining a gang or staying at home.

That’s where Region comes in. Region has continued and advanced the efforts of the UNHCR in creating community spaces for youth and adults and establishing workshops and classes so the youth can learn new skills, develop their passions, and teach others what they’ve learned. The classes include photography, singing, songwriting, graffiti, hip-hop dance, crafts, gardening, drawing and design, sports and more. Region helps out by providing materials as well, such as cameras, computers, internet access and other stuff for crafts and gardening. The fact that they are encouraged to teach others what they’ve learned particularly stood out to me: once the youth (children and young adults) take enough classes to learn a particular skill, they then can choose to become a teacher of that subject in the community center and get paid to do so. My boss told me that this aspect teaches the youth that they can make a living doing what they really love to do, like teach dance classes, which is something they likely hadn’t considered before.

So anyway, I met Carolina at the closest metro station and we took a bus together to the community center at La Loma where I met five students from ages 18-21 hanging out at the center and editing some photos on Photoshop for their website. They spend most of their days at the community center to use the computer and/or internet, work on whatever project they’re working on, and just generally hang out with their friends. They were waiting on one of their rapper friends to arrive so that they could record a music video for his latest song, which he recorded in the recording studio at the community center with the help of the other people involved in the Music team. Carolina showed me around the community center a for a little bit and told me more about the project, and then we joined the rest of the group to watch the making of this music video. Today, they were recording on top of a hill by a church that had spectacular (yet polluted) views of the city, as you can see in the photo above. There were a bunch of middle school and high school-aged students walking around the area on their lunch break and watching curiously as the group recorded the from different angles and zoomed in on the rapper’s hands with the city in the background. Carolina said that the more activities they do like this – getting a bunch of young people together to produce something cool and fun (did I ruin it now?) outside – the more other people want to join. She said that it shows the community that it’s safe, fun, and productive to get outside.

This whole project is super cool and impressive, and I’m grateful to my colleagues and the people of La Loma for inviting me to their home and letting me participate in their activities. It’s awesome to witness a town like this, one that has suffered greatly from gang violence, displacement, narcotrafficking, paramilitary and guerrilla fighting, and lack of government support and protection, continue to move forward despite the setbacks and unite itself as a community in a grassroots way. Many problems still remain, as there is still violence in the community and the presence of BACRIM, but what I witnessed was truly revolutionary and inspiring, and I can’t wait to go back.

If you want to learn more about La Loma and Region, check out their Facebook page “Loma Joven” or this video about the project that I told you about this post:

Thanks for reading this super long post! There’s still so much more to share about my experience here, but that will have to do for now.


Julie x


Pre-temporada with Levante UD

Although I’ve been in Valencia, Spain for a little over a month, the real fun began last Thursday. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love working at IVRE + (Institut Valencian de Recuperacio Esportivo) on any given day. I am here studying the different sports medicine techniques that the cardiologists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, traumatologists, physicians, podiatrists and surgeons use on a daily basis. The work atmosphere is great and although it sounds cheesy, the medical team  is truly a team, always working to ensure that their patients receive top quality care with their tight knit medical network.

For the past month, I’ve been functioning as a fly on the wall that watches procedures, assists with preparation and translates many documents for some of the high profile athletes that prefer english. However, Thursday marked the beginning of pre-season for Levante UD, a first division professional team in Valencia. I was fortunate enough to assist with more than 20 stress tests and nutritional intakes over the course of two days and I’m so excited to continue to assist and to learn as the pre-season intensifies and the second teams begin practice as well (I was also fortunate enough to make it onto the Levante website, see link below).

I am so proud to say that I am lucky enough to learn from these intelligent doctors and physical therapists who treat every patient equally. From what I witnessed, every patient at IVRE is equally important and treated like a top-tier athlete. This was an incredible, but predictable, observation to make. Over the course of two days I was able to see how important and beneficial it is to have a medical clinic that includes professionals from every field that pertains to the specialty (such as a sports psychiatrist and surgeon all in the same building). Since the IVRE team all work at the same clinic, they are able to talk face-to-face about any concerns they may have about their patients. In terms of the soccer club, this means that the traumatologist can tell the podiatrist about a player’s past injury before the podiatrist creates cleat inserts, which could make all the difference in terms of comfort and injury prevention. I am also so happy that I am in Valencia for two months so I am have the opportunity to see many of the patients complete their recuperation progress.

Look forward to another post coming within the next week from a conference in Seville!


Feriados, Mates y Montañas

As I write this blog post I am sitting in the living room of my apartment sipping yerba mate because today is a feriado/holiday! I am interning at a small non-profit in Córdoba, Argentina called the Foundation for the Development of Sustainable Politics (FUNDEPS), however today the city turns 444 years old, so I do not have to go into work.

The FUNDEPS office consists of two small rooms on the 6th floor of an office building that fill up with a rotating cast of staff and volunteers each day. Their mission is to work towards creating more sustainable and inclusive policies at the local, national, and international level, with working groups in public health, gender equality, global governance and  the environment (the group that I am in).

During my first week I worked on a variety of projects, including reading Argentina’s 2017 platform on the environment and writing a comment (well really a critique), comparing its commitments to those of other countries and encouraging more ambitious actions. I also joined a trip to the nearby city of Alta Gracia to investigate allegations that sections of a public river were illegally enclosed in a gated community. The past two weeks I have been working on a project looking into plans for anew landfill to be built outside of the city. I have been SLOWLY chipping away at a 120 page environmental impact report. In Spanish. So I have certainly been expanding my vocabulary!


Three interns and three staff members after an environment group meeting

Speaking of new vocabulary: anyone that thinks they speak decent Spanish, come to Córdoba and you will be humbled! They speak rapid fire Spanish with a smattering of local colloquialisms. I am starting to get a handle on the slang, but still speak at a snails pace, comparatively.

One of my favorite parts of Argentine culture is the way they drink mate! At work someone will make one cup of mate with one straw and fill a thermos with hot water. They then continuously refill the cup with water and pass it around the table for all to share. In the U.S. people would probably be worries about germs, but here it’s the norm to share with everyone around you! Last Sunday I went hiking at a STUNNING national park with three of my co-workers, and a half hour in, they pulled out a bag of mate, and we passed the cup around as we walked until we had used all the hot water.


Mate on a mountain!


Pushing through the wind at Quebrada del Condorito National Park

Tales of a summer intern, or how I ended up attending a Bengali wedding in Paris

Bonjour from Paris!

If you read my first post you may remember that I am currently interning for an NGO called Kiron France, based in Paris. As I dive into my last two weeks in Paris, I thought it’d be good to give a small debriefing on my current projects as an intern of the organization circle, including but not limited to: discovering that eclairs à la crème de pistache are almost as good as coffee ones, attending a Bengali wedding in Paris, and working on Kiron’s internal gender policy.

My role at Kiron France was very well-defined from the beginning; something I wasn’t expecting as an incoming intern with limited experience. We often hear that interns spend hours doing administrative work and making coffee, but my experience at Kiron has been quite the opposite (in the best way possible). When I arrived, my supervisor walked me through a process internally called “on-boarding”. In my head, I pictured this moment as some sort of initiation activity that would welcome me onboard of the “Kiron” boat. Similes aside, I wasn’t quite mistaken! The on-boarding process is really just a welcoming session for new interns, employees, and volunteers at Kiron, by which the volunteer manager welcomes them to the team. Perhaps most interestingly, I was also introduced to the internal gender policy. As a European international student at Connecticut College, I am constantly thinking of my overlapping identity both as a woman and a foreigner. In France, I wasn’t expecting these types of conversations to take place – not at least in my work environment. Not only did I learn that the current country director of Kiron France is a woman, but also that most of the volunteers identify as women as well. While discussing the internal gender policy, my supervisor walked me through the strategies in place to transform our workplace in a more inclusive community. This conversation derived into a two-hour-long chat with Deborah (my supervisor, even though she highly dislikes that term) on the roles of gender and sexuality in the United States and France, and on our role and responsibility to act upon them. Surprisingly enough, she invited me to start working on this policy on my very first day as a new Kironista. I could not have been more pleasingly surprised: not only I was being valued as a member of a new community, but also given tasks that were interesting to me on my very first day as a summer intern.

After working on the gender policy, I helped organizing English tests at the British Council in Paris and co-organized workshops on volunteer management and work-life balance, among other things. Deborah and the rest of the team have quickly become excellent colleagues and inspiring young people that I look up to as I try to transition from being a student of International Relations and French to a motivated individual ready to go out to the real world. I read an article a couple weeks ago where the author stressed the importance of making connections during our internships, and I could not agree more with him. I am definitely learning a lot at my internship, but it is the new set of connections that I am making that I value the most. And I don’t mean this in a “networking – I will need a job in ten months” kind of way. Being a member of Kiron France, I have been able to exchange my views and motivations with people in 4 different languages, and to meet inspiring individuals that are making my experience in Paris unforgettable. Perhaps one of my favorite moments from this summer was meeting some of the founders of Kiron France itself. These encounters allowed me to put my experience into perspective, and to gain a better sense of belonging and purpose. Let me explain. The founders of Kiron France were students of Science Po that started gathering together at a cafe to discuss the so-called “migratory crisis” in the fall of 2015. Right now, only a year and a half later, they count with their own office space in the 15th arrondissement, 40 members of the team, over 200 students enrolled in their courses, and 2 academic partnerships with French universities. Listening to their experiences and seeing what they built in only eighteen months is rather motivating.

On top of the wonderful professional experience that I am gaining at Kiron France, I have two special moments of my life in Paris to share with you. The first one is discovering éclairs à la pistache. For those who know me and know that I love eclairs au cafe this will come as a surprise, as two weeks ago I decided to get out of my comfort zone (this may seem like a joke, but I am actually quite conservative when it comes to my choice of pastries in France) and try an eclair à la crème de pistache, and oh was it a good decision  (refer to the attached picture – do not if you are hungry). Choice of eclairs and sugar aside, my favorite event of the last two weeks was going to the Bengali wedding of one of the first Kiron students, Suchorita. Suchorita is a wonderful young woman in Paris, who is originally from Bangladesh. She invited the Kiron team to her wedding last Thursday, and it was wonderful to join her in this special day. Voici une photo of Suchorita, fellow CISLA students Carolyn and Anna, and I at the wedding.

Stay tuned to ConnChronicles on Instagram as I will be taking over next week!


A très bientôt,




Rwandering Around

Muraho from Kigali, Rwanda–the Land of 1000 Hills. It’s me, Michelle! So far I’ve only fallen  down 1/1000 hills so only 999 more to go!

This isn’t the hill I fell down, but man is Rwanda beautiful.

I’ve been in Rwanda since February and have learned so much since being here! It’s hard to put my experience into words because my experiences here have challenged my values and the ways in which I view certain topics.

Transitioning from study abroad into my internship has been a brand new challenge because even though I’m still living with my incredible host family I am now more independent!

I’m interning at a local NGO called Fondation des Artisans de la Paix et du Développement Au Rwanda (FAPDR). FAPDR’s mission is to provide solutions  to rural poverty while protecting the environment.  There are 3 men who work in the office, however a larger team works in the field. Currently, FAPDR is working on a project to bring energy saving stoves into the Northern Province of Rwanda. These stoves require less wood than traditional stoves. This means that when families use these stoves, less deforestation occurs in Rwanda, which is especially important in the Northern Province because that where Volcanoes National Park is (home of the mountain gorillas). Plus, when families use less fuel they spend less money or have more time to participate in incoming generating activities!

I had the chance to accompany my coworkers to Bugeshi district on the border with the DRC. The purpose of going there was to conduct a meeting with the representatives who would be responsible for distribution within their cell. (a cell is a couple of towns) I got to witness the interplay between the central office and the field staff who do the bulk of the monitoring and troubleshooting. Plus, there was a view of the Congo and a volcano from the building where the meeting was, so that was cool. Afterwards, since we were in the area, we stopped by Lake Kivu to eat lunch.

Just a casual volcano looming in the distance.
On the shores of Lake Kivu.

I also had an opportunity to sit in on a meeting between FAPDR and a representative from Co2balance, a UK-based NGO that is helping fund some of FAPDR’s projects in Rwanda. It was fascinating to witness the interplay between the international donor and the local staff. The meeting was a check up on the project and familiarize a new Co2Balance staff member on the situation in Rwanda. Overall, Co2Balance and FAPDR have a great relationship so that was wonderful to see.

Outside of my internship I spend lots of time with my host family and friends here in Rwanda. There is nothing I love more than coming home and playing cards with my host brothers or drinking beer and chatting with my host dad. It’s in these really simple moments when I get to understand what it’s really like to live in Rwanda in 2017.

The view from my front porch

I’ll leave you all with a Rwandan proverb that summarizes what I’ve learned since arriving in Kigali: “Icyo dupfana kiruta icyo dupfa.” “What we have in common is more important than what keeps us apart.”