When people ask me what I do with our compañero, I tell them honestly that we just chat. As part of the Juntos Compañeros program, two other Middlebury students and I go to visit a farmworker named Gustavo every Friday for a couple of hours. I often get some confused looks and uncertainty about what the purpose behind “just chatting” is.
Sometimes we practice English words and phrases and work on specific things like communicating with staff at the bank or post office to send money back to his hometown in Tabasco, Mexico. Other times we will talk about the movie he was just watching on his “dia de descanso” (rest day) and get into a conversation about pop culture, television shows, and our favorite fútbol (soccer) teams. Most of the time though, the conversation slips into how he is doing day to day. If he’s warm enough when he goes out to milk in the early morning in the winter. If his employer has increased his payment above minimum wage at all. Gustavo puts a face to the issue. As an undocumented migrant farmworker in Vermont he works long untraditional hours, he is paid low wages, and he suffers hard conditions on a family dairy farm.
We are by no means solving the issues that Gustavo faces by just chatting. We are not confronting the crisis of immigration. We are not doing anything that would be published in the newspaper as revolutionary engagement in the community, but I think our little nuggets of conversation in broken English and Spanish provide some form of companionship and insight for both of us. It’s fun to talk about soccer and TV and our favorite foods. It’s two hours for Gustavo that don’t revolve around the farm’s milking schedule and two hours for us that don’t revolve around squeezing in lunch at Proctor between class and meetings. Just chatting lets us all take a break and just exist with one another for a while. It’s not the structural change that’s needed with immigration, but it feels like a little baby step to creating solidarity and a partnership across difference.
– Maeve Moynihan ’17
“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Hannah Postel ‘13 interned as a Consular Intern at the U.S. Department of State in Chengdu, China.
What did you do?
Serving as the Consular Intern at the US Consulate General Chengdu provided me with a first-hand view of the US visa process; though the work was often mundane, it was an amazing opportunity to learn about American diplomacy overseas. I mainly assisted with the visa process through biometrics collection and security advisory opinion drafting. However, I also organized outreach events such as a pre-departure seminar for student visa recipients and assisted with American Citizen Services. Research included a study focusing on the overlap of economic & visa trends, a student validation study, and an Emerging Market Report for the USDA. I also took Chinese classes.
What did you learn?
I definitely learned more about the US visa process and the jobs of Foreign Service Officers in general. I was glad that I’m interested in immigration, because I extrapolated from my daily tasks to understand how what I was doing fit into the overall visa process and global immigration trends. The summer visa rush entails huge volumes of work for all staff members, and I was thus only able to work on more substantial projects beyond processing visas after demand died down. I would definitely recommend the experience to other Middlebury students, though due to the nature of the State Department application they would not be able to specifically request a specific section (Consular, Public Affairs, etc).
What are your plans for the future?
This experience has reinforced my interest in international immigration, and I am now considering serving as a Foreign Service Officer. I hope that gaining such on the ground, day-to-day immigration experiences will make my applications for international migration-related jobs and graduate programs more competitive. I know I will be able to apply the knowledge I acquired in this internship both on campus and in my future life. At Middlebury I am involved with the organization JUNTOS Migrant Outreach, volunteering with Mexican dairy workers in the area, and I think my new knowledge about a different migrant community will enrich our work. Also, I plan on applying for the master’s program in Migration Studies at Oxford University, and I know that the experiences I have had during this internship will both help my application and augment my educational experience if I am admitted.
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