There’s No Place Like (a New) Home After spending Spring Term in Ethiopia, Jack Kaelin ’19 is in Austin, Texas, helping refugees find a place to call home.
“W&L wants its students to go out and engage the world. I think experiences like this one really demonstrate the university’s dedication to its mission statement. Opportunities are endless at W&L, and professors and staff really invest themselves in your future and want to see you succeed.”
Hometown: Wilton, Connecticut
Major: Global Politics
Minors: Poverty and Human Capability Studies, Africana Studies
Q. What did you do this summer?
I did a Shepherd internship this summer working in Texas at Caritas of Austin, one of Austin’s major social work organizations. I worked mostly with client case managers in the refugee resettlement and permanent supportive housing departments. These departments help provide case management, stable housing, social service assistance, rent subsidies, and a host of other services to support housing clients from the local Austin area and refugee clients from all over the world.
Q. How did you like Austin?
Austin is a place unlike any I have ever been to before. It is an incredibly diverse city in the middle of Texas filled with murals, coffee shops and live music. More and more people move in every day, so things never seem to slow down. It also has a number of community and cultural events open to the public which is always exciting. I have really enjoyed the chance to work in such a lively setting.
Q. What did an average day for you look like?
I switched off every other day working on refugee resettlement and supportive housing, and no one day was entirely routine in either department. Both required a good deal of hands-on work with clients, and that work varied tremendously. In refugee resettlement, work with clients covers the entire spectrum of resettlement – picking the clients up from the airport on their first day in America, administering their intake the following day, helping to file their paperwork for social services, following up with social services, and providing general guidance and support during our clients’ first six months in the US. In supportive housing, tasks might include support during resident inspections and, more recently, interviewing some clients as part of a management performance assessment.
Q. If you could choose one part of your experience that was the most rewarding and fulfilling, what would it be?
Working with people from all over the world and from all walks of life was incredibly rewarding. Every client I have worked with has had something to teach me, and those lessons have ranged from travel advice to how to stay resilient when your whole world has been turned sideways. I have always made an effort to read and learn about refugee-related issues, but actually working with the clients themselves has made a much greater impact on me.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced?
I think it is easy to get cynical in social work. Individual circumstances or structural challenges oftentimes make it very easy for things to not go your way, and it gets difficult trying to figure out who or what to blame. In those situations, I have had to remind myself how important it is to stay positive, to celebrate success, and to keep faith in people.
Q. Who served as a mentor to you this summer, and what did they teach you?
Many of the case managers who do this work year-round were incredible mentors over the past two months. They were instrumental in teaching me how to work more effectively with clients from incredibly different backgrounds than mine, how to build trust when you are stranger, how to discover what you have in common, and how to prove you genuinely care. They also helped me reevaluate what success looks like and how to judge progress for different clients.
Q. What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what will you bring back to your life on campus?
I think W&L more so than other schools encourages us as students to take pride in our work. You know your professors, and they know what you’re capable of, so we work diligently to only submit work that we are proud of. I think that experience was helpful in social work because one of its caveats is that your quality of work has bigger implications than just a performance assessment. It has a fairly immediate impact on someone’s life. If you cannot put the effort in to learn about and navigate the social service office, your client might not have SNAP benefits for a month. If you act indifferent to your clients opening up to you, they may not trust you or any other employee moving forward. Good work creates good outcomes for the clients we serve and care about. At W&L, I will appreciate the experience we get committing ourselves to our success because it might have a future impact on other people.
Q. Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?
I would love the chance to continue studying refugee-related issues. This coming fall semester, I will have the chance to visit a refugee camp in Uganda, so I am hoping that experience will add some additional perspective.
Q. Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
Ultimately, W&L wants its students to go out and engage the world. I think experiences like this one really demonstrate the university’s dedication to its mission statement. Opportunities are endless at W&L, and professors and staff really invest themselves in your future and want to see you succeed.
Q. Describe your summer adventure in one word:
Jack would like you to know that he is “incredibly thankful for the support of the Shepherd Program and its donors for making this experience possible.”