Like many college students, I have finally reached the point in my life where the reality of post-grad adulthood is slowly creeping into reality and the career possibilities to be either daunting or a mystery. I arrived in Japan hopeful for opportunities that would not only help clarify what I would like to do after graduation, but also add to my personal growth that innately evolves when expanding your comfort zone. Although I have worked with grass roots communities and activists in my home country, I felt that it was not fair to be passionate about one cause when I have not fully experienced or acquainted myself with others. I wanted my future to be about a range of possibilities rather than a safe, paved pathway to one.
I believe RIJ’s internship was an exceptional stepping stone in expanding my horizons. My future, although not at all solidified, is slowly coming into shape and I can’t thank RIJ enough about what that means to me. From networking with amazing individuals from all walks of life, acquainting myself with RIJ work by organizing old files, creating infographics, liaising with the student community, and updating social media with refugee narratives and RIJ events, the RIJ community gave me a taste of what the power of an international community can do for each other. Although I enjoyed conversing with everyone about their respective passions, the defining highlight of RIJ was acquainting myself with refugee testimonials. With community work, often, it is so easy to feel that what we are doing is not efficiently reaching the proper outlets and that makes our work feel tiresome. Yet, hearing narratives from Jane, handling items from actual refugees for the Refugee Collection, and witnessing success stories helped me bridge the feeling of distance between refugees and I, demonstrating human relationships are that tangible. With that in mind, any community work I do in the future will have the experience of knowing this tangibility because of RIJ, making my work that much more genuine and so much more valuable for community.
The value of the internship is really dependent on the work you put in. Because Jane, our fearless leader, values the initiative you take with the skills and network you have, the internship gives free and creative reign to produce whatever work you can do for the RIJ community. At first, it was a bit daunting trying to piece myself within the puzzle. But it allowed me to see for myself what I was good at and what needed improvement. Once I figured out what and how my knacks could benefit RIJ, I fitted right in. It is amazing that a little office in Odaiba could impact so much and cause ripples in entire communities oceans away. It inspires me to do similar work in the future as it’s not about the size of an organization but the passion and willingness of a human being.
As my last note, I’d like to change the common dialogue of trying to enact empathy unto others to checking privileges instead. With my time in RIJ, the problem of how to spread empathy to others in order to help realize that “refugees are just like you and me” is a tough one to answer. Phrases such as “like you and me” often do the opposite effect and demonstrate a distance between the two rather than a commonality. With many individuals, it takes more than just a pamphlet or video. Rather than paying attention to the refugee, I find it more effective to analyze and critique ourselves. What makes you privileged? Do you want to impact change? Are you willing to share your opportunities with others? Why or why not? To me, the answers to these questions are the true differences between “you and me”. The opportunities that arise from being privileged can be used to give back to communities that aren’t so privileged. Empathy does not necessarily correlate with taking action.
RIJへ、素晴らしい経験をあげてくれて、本当にありがとうございました。RIJ, thank you so much for this wonderful experience.