“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Mia Benjamin ’13 interned with Pathways for Mutual Respect and the International Institute of Connecticut in Singapore, Malaysia and Connecticut.
I worked to promote Pathways for Mutual Respect’s interfaith dialogue initiative in Singapore and Malaysia and assisted in a Yale Fellow’s dissertation research on sociology of religion. The other intern and I also put together and facilitated a Life Story Group which brought together Muslims and Christians to share their personal experiences with the goal of breaking down stereotypes and boundaries. For IIConn, I translated Arabic legal documents and served as a personal interpreter and American language and culture tutor to an Iraqi refugee family. While the main purpose of my internship was still to translate legal documents, I did a lot of other tasks for the Institute’s refugee department. I translated about one or two legal documents a week, including divorce certificate, marital contracts, passports, criminal records, and academic transcripts from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. My other primary duty was providing support for a family of Iraqi refugees. In addition to tutoring the wife and children on English and American culture, I served as the personal interpreter for the wife on her doctor and dentist visits.
What did you learn?
From my trip to Southeast Asia, I learned first-hand about the complex religious, ethnic and political tensions in Malaysia and Singapore. I was also exposed to international leadership roles. I gained experience in maintaining careful control over the public image and identity of an organization and the subtleties of inter-business relationships. In the other parts of the internship I learned how to facilitate interfaith discussion groups and manage controversial topics. I also gained experience doing literature reviews of certain topics. The most benefit I gained was learning a great deal about interfaith work, Islam, and running a small non-profit.
What are your plans for the future?
This internship really helped me explore what an academic career that is heavily involved in activism might be like. It increased my desire to work internationally with Muslims and well as pursue graduate studies in the field, because I saw how important international experience and graduate degrees could be having a very real influence on policies and leadership. This helped encourage my belief in the necessity of interfaith dialogue initiatives, especially ones that carefully take into account the complexity of religious and social tensions in the region. One way that I would like to continue this would be to combine community service and interfaith endeavors on the Middlebury campus. For instance, I hope to organize a Habitat for Humanity build day with leaders from the different religious groups on campus.
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