Stevie Rudak | December 04, 2023
Providing Refuge as a DC Intern
International studies major assists immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.
Born in Laos and having lived in three different countries, Pepsi Siouthoum’s passion for connecting with others who have experienced moving to another country made his internship with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) a perfect fit.
“Since transferring to Brockport I’ve had great opportunities,” Siouthoum said. “I’ve been working with great people at the IRC in Silver Spring, Maryland, providing mostly Haitian and Ukrainian asylees with different services.”
An “asylee” refers to an individual who comes to the United States, stays in the country legally, and is allowed to live and work until they apply for residency or citizenship. The IRC supports individuals and families affected by humanitarian crises worldwide, providing guidance and resources to help them regain and restore their overall well-being.
“When I first started, I didn’t believe my work had much of an impact. I now understand that even the slightest assistance I provide to clients makes a difference.”
Siouthoum’s internship with the IRC is part of his enrollment in the Washington Internship Program. The program provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of our nation’s capital, gaining direct involvement in politics and various professional domains.
“Most of the internships I found and applied to were research-based,” Siouthoum said. “What I like about the immigration field is that it gives me direct involvement and exposure to helping people.”
As an Asylee Caseworker Intern, Siouthoum connects refugees with essential resources like English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, Medicaid, Social Security cards, State IDs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Workers Permits, and more.
“Sometimes our clients struggle with paperwork and communication,” Siouthoum said. “Often, they can’t read or understand the forms we give them due to language barriers. When they come into our office, they’ll say, ‘I have all these papers, and I don’t know what to do.’ I’ll be the one to walk clients through the forms.”
To effectively communicate with clients daily, the IRC employs interpreters who serve as a third-party during check-in calls conducted by Siouthoum and when clients visit the office.
“When I first started, I didn’t believe my work had much of an impact,” Siouthoum said. “However, I now understand that even the slightest assistance I provide to clients makes a difference. They are so grateful simply for our responsiveness to their concerns and for being there for them.”
The gratitude Siouthoum has felt from his clients throughout the Washington Internship Program has helped solidify his post-college career path.
“When I ask questions like, ‘How’s your day been? How’s your ESL class going? Have you found a job?’ they express their feelings to me and understand that we’re trying our best to help them,” Siouthoum said. “This experience helped me narrow down the scope of what I wanted to do after graduation.”