Friday, May 13, 2011

the travel bug?

Written yesterday, but Blogger wasn't working when I tried to post it...

This week at work we are being audited by our volags. It’s 3 days of them inspecting our operations and making sure we are doing a good job. They are reviewing files, interviewing clients, talking to our CEO and CFO, talking to a board member, doing site visits to refugee employers, interviewing us, and more. One of the women from one of the volags reviewing us had spent 7 years living and working in Nairobi, helping to process refugees (I learned about this during an "employee appreciation lunch" catered from Qdoba that day). She started out as a caseworker, which is typical. Caseworkers interview refugee families to understand their story and start them on the process of being resettled into a third country. The caseworkers often travel for weeks outside of Nairobi, Kenya, where they're based, to other countries to meet with refugees. She said it is extremely hard and emotionally difficult work, because you have to remain distant and cannot help them. You cannot ask personal questions to your interpreters. You have to keep everything at arms length. But sometimes the refugee family is starving to death right before you, and they ask for food or help, but you cannot give it to them. You have to listen to their stories of horror and trauma. She said it’s also extremely rewarding and the people who do it are extremely compassionate. She worked her way up to a pretty high position in the agency in Nairobi, but last December decided to come back to the USA.

I was very impressed and intrigued by her story and by her work. Part of me wanted to apply for a job as a caseworker immediately. Then, as we continued to talk, part of me didn’t. When she talked about her new job in the USA, she talked about how wonderful it was to be able to connect with the people she had processed back in Africa and connect with interpreters now. She really liked to be able to see the refugees' progress, instead of one snapshot during an extremely painful and difficult time in their life. I like that about my job a lot. I like having a friendly relationship with my coworkers, both American and foreign-born. Part of me is afraid of case work overseas and never wants to do it, though at the same time I'm drawn to the stories and, of course, the adventure that living overseas is. Would I be able to handle the burden of the stories? Would I be able to handle the pain they brought to me and not help them? Even though I know it’s a vital part of the process? What emotionally draining work. It’s so much easier and fun on the USA end. Everyone’s excited, and culture shock, though painful and difficult for its own reasons, passes, and you adjust to the new place. I like the fun part. I don’t know. I do want to make long trips overseas somewhere, preferably as a job and not just vacationing or volunteering. But I don’t want to go for a year or longer, unless I have the support of my family. I don’t know what type of job that would be and if it exists around here. I guess there’s just still so much to learn…

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