A Quick Look at What Happens at the IISTL – Kristen Kimble, Intern

I had never heard of the International Institute of St. Louis, much less been here, until this past May. At the orientation for my summer internship, I discovered I would be interning here for the summer. I read a few brochures and that was the extent of my knowledge.

On my first day, as I drove down Arsenal, past the front doors, I saw many people dressed in a plethora of colors parading to the front door. I was amazed by the amount of culture I suddenly realized St. Louis was home to.

Still not knowing too much about the Institute, I went to the welcome desk to sign in. I, then, noticed a waiting room of even more new [and old] St. Louisans who were from all around the world. On my tour, I was taken around the facility and quickly learned that one building served way more than one purpose. The best way I can think to put it is that the International Institute does what your parents did for you in roughly your first eighteen years of life, in much less than one year. They ensure that every person coming to St. Louis can not only function, but also succeed and live a life that they are proud of.

However, it would be inaccurate if I did not mention what else makes this success happen. Aside from the hard, relentless work of the Institute and its staff, volunteers, and donors, the will of the new members of our community is difficult to comprehend. Many of the new members left behind a life that they worked hard for, in which they were well off. And now, they are in a foreign country, due to circumstances beyond their control, where they do not speak the language; a degree they may have earned or a skill they may have used is often not applicable here. Despite all of their setbacks, they are doing the exact same thing I am as an incoming college freshman. Arriving at the International Institute every morning in an attempt to be successful and make something out of my life.

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Inside Look at the Institute – Summer Internship – Andrew Hof, Intern

From July 12-17, I attended the Bank of America Student Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. where 215 rising seniors and incoming college freshmen from all over the United States discussed major social and political issues in our country while recognizing how young leaders of today will be the trailblazers of the future and focusing on the path to advancement with our week-long motto, “Serve, Inspire, Change.”  The Summit is the capstone of the Bank of America Student Leaders Program, and the timing of this weeklong conference was perfect since my internship at the International Institute of St. Louis thus far provided new context in which to consider major concerns of the United States.

A panel discussion with Paul Monteiro, Director of AmeriCorps VISTA, for instance, had added significance due to my familiarity with the AmeriCorps workers at the International Institute.  Having physical people to picture when discussing the hard work AmeriCorps members complete and the lasting impact of their year of service enabled me to have a deeper understanding of AmeriCorps’ mission.

When we discussed the opportunity divide based on wealth, I was not only able to consider my own community, but also the communities of immigrants and refugees whose daily hardship should not be met with stationary social status.

I had the chance to meet with Representatives Lacy Clay and Ann Wagner while at the Capitol Building on one day of the summit.  I was able to ask questions about Human Trafficking, an issue I only became familiar with once I helped with the Rescue and Restore Regional Conference to Combat Human Trafficking during my first week at the Institute, directly to the people who have the greatest ability to combat traffickers through the creation of new laws.

The International Institute has provided me with a new social frame.  As the final days of my internship wind down, I can walk away knowing that I spent this summer challenging myself.  I have served some of the nicest people I have ever met while tutoring in the International Institute’s Citizenship Literacy class.  I have inspired the St. Louis community through my efforts helping to plan the Festival of Nations, and I have been inspired by my fellow student leaders at the summit in Washington, D.C.  Most importantly, I have changed.  I took risks and was not afraid to say “yes” and can happily say that I have no regrets.

The International Institute and the Bank of America Student Leaders Program have made this summer truly unforgettable, and I am incredibly thankful to have been given this once in a lifetime opportunity.

What I Have Learned About the Institute – by Andrew Hof, Intern

I began my internship at the International Institute of St. Louis just over a month ago knowing almost nothing about how the organization functioned or what services we provided for new arrivals in the United States.  While I have picked up bits and pieces about what different branches of the Institute do from my experience working at the human trafficking conference, tutoring in Citizenship Literacy classes, and listening to Anna Crosslin’s history of the International Institute, I finally had the opportunity to meet with department heads from the resettlement, workforce solutions, and economic development groups in order to discover how the International Institute operates and fulfills the needs of our clients.

Resettlement

Kathy Tucker, Resettlement Manager, explained the daunting task of resettling refugees which includes airport pickup, arranging an apartment, home visits, aid in enrolling in food stamp and cash assistance programs, providing orientation that covers American regulations regarding healthcare, education, laws, and employment, as well as providing resources to cover any other issues new arrivals in the United States may encounter.  While several of these tasks are required by law, the International Institute goes beyond the “industry norm” and manages to provide most of these services within the same building.  New refugees are allotted $925 which is used to cover all living expenses for the first three months, but after those months pass, refugees must start to function independently.  Kathy described difficulties in resettlement which include not only typical struggles such as the language barrier, but also issues with trust since new arrivals tend to be weary of strangers due to the corrupt places from which they originate.  Kathy believes that airport pickup is the most memorable and rewarding aspect of her job since new arrivals tend to remember the person who first greets them in the United States for the rest of their lives.

Workforce Solutions Program

I sat down with Blake Hamilton, Workforce Solutions Program Manager, to discuss employment services at the International Institute.  Beyond offering skill training classes for clients through the Institute’s hotel housekeeping, sewing, and Certified Nursing Assistant programs and job placement orientation, job developers in the workforce solutions department contact local employers in order to find available jobs and assess the necessary skills potential employees must have.  Blake describes his position as fast paced and emphasized the unique experiences of each new arrival looking for a job.  While some arrive in the US with advanced degrees, others come here with negligible work experience and poor to nonexistent English.  The workforce solutions department must evaluate each individual and create rational expectations for the new arrivals.    Finding a job is essential for refugees since new arrivals are left financially independent after three months.  For individuals who come to the United States with advanced education, the International Institute offers the Career Advancement for International Professionals (CAIP) program which seeks to recertify new arrivals who are looking to reach the next level in their career.  Many people expect to come to the US and instantly find economic prosperity, but the reality is that new arrivals need to start immediately working, typically in low skill positions, in order to develop financial stability and a work that will allow them to achieve their version of the “American Dream” in the long run.  The workforce solutions department allows new arrivals to obtain immediate cash flow, setting them on the path for long term success.

Economic Development Services

Finally, Diego Abente, Director of Economic Development Services, explained the micro lending process at the International Institute for immigrant and refugee small businesses.  Since new arrivals in the United States essentially have no credit history, and thus minimal savings, ordinary banks are hesitant to loan money to these clients.  The high risk associated with lending to these small businesses does not deter the International Institute.  The Institute empowers new arrivals through financial literacy orientation, giving them the information they need to begin saving money and develop economic assets.  It is not uncommon for clients to have minimal experience working with finances, so the complex American monetary system would cause unsurmountable culture shock if not for the resources of the International Institute.  Diego enjoys the flexible and unpredictable nature of his job and has come to expect the unexpected in his day to day work.  The microloans, which range from $500 to $3,500, are designed as a starter campaign allowing immigrants and refugees to experience the responsibility of a loan with the goal of becoming eligible for loans at a typical bank with their proven credit history from our program.  The loans are by no means handouts.  Before lending money, Diego and his department evaluate the current financial state of new arrivals in order to determine if the loan will be beneficial, assuring that clients meet baseline requirements.  The Institute uses the loan to produce new opportunity for immigrants and refugees, not create another burden in this new country.

Anna Crosslin loves to promote the International Institute as the “one-stop-shop for new arrivals” since we offer so many different services and resources for our clients under one roof.  Without the fantastic opportunities that are provided by the Institute, successful integration for immigrants and refugees would be next to impossible.

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