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Our Human Rights interns are a thoughtful and talented group of students—for years now, the Pozen Center has drawn upon internship alumni to serve as Peer Leaders, coaching prospective interns through the application process and mentoring new cohorts as they secure and plan for their summer internships. This year, in partnership with Career Advancement, we were thrilled to expand alumni involvement in a meaningful way. More than 30 former interns—at various stages in their careers—signed up to review internship applications and interview students on campus. In this reflection, Peer Leader Salma Elkhaoudi shares her experience participating in the internship program from a new perspective.

The summer after my second year in the college, I flew into Athens, Greece to begin an unforgettable ten-week internship as a Pozen Human Rights intern at Ritsona Refugee Camp. I landed in the new country— no friends, no family, and no language proficiency— having revised my travel logistics just weeks ago in detail with my Pozen Center peer leader. In the months that followed, I would spend hundreds of hours in the refugee camp, working closely with the women and children of the camp and various human rights NGOs.  

My work setting ranged from developing recreational summer programs for children, to helping facilitate workshops and activities for women, to translating and conducting a psychosocial needs assessment with a resident psychologist. On any given day I could be found playing UNO with children in the camp’s Child Friendly Space, trying my hand at henna designs with the women in the Female Friendly Space, or translating heart-wrenching responses for a professional psychosocial assessment in family isoboxes. The last few weeks of my internship were spent discovering camps and illegal squats outside of Ritsona Camp—from Oinofyta Camp, which housed mostly Afghani and South-Asian refugees, to Greece’s anarchic Exarchia square which is home to a few squats full of refugee families and unaccompanied minors.  

That summer was an incredible experience for me in a number of ways, none more important than the fact that it allowed me the privilege to serve an incredibly vulnerable population while completely solidifying my dedication to the field of international human rights. I flew back to campus that following Fall with a resolve to minor in Human Rights, and a new, thrilling idea for my BA thesis.  

Now, a year later, I serve as a Pozen Human Rights Peer Leader myself, advising students through the application process, interview and, eventually, placement options. The Human Rights internship program is structured to ensure that past, present and future Human Rights interns interact through all its phases; it’s not just about the experience of being an intern.

As usual, this year’s application cycle brought with it a number of students across years and disciplines, with different interests and experiences in human rights. While prospective undergraduate and graduate students navigated the internship application and its requirements, they were encouraged to engage with past interns  for a better understanding of the program. That’s where my work as a Peer Leader came in— week after week, students would come to my office hours with new questions at different stages in the application process. When interview rounds came along, alumni who are now professionals in their fields conducted the interviews themselves, assessing whether or not applicants are ready to handle the potential challenges of a human rights internship.  

There is a certain level of unpredictability and emotional rigor that can come with non-profit human rights work, particularly overseas. NGOs are at the mercy of political circumstances and financial support, and intern responsibilities can shift dramatically and increase in responsibility over the ten-week period. Only a few weeks into my own internship my supervisor quit and the United Nations, along with several core NGOs, began pulling out of Ristona Camp due to dwindling funds. As a result, my role and responsibilities in the camp grew substantially, and I had to be ready to put all my skills to use in any capacity I was needed.  

It was easy to convey this kind of need for professional flexibility and maturity to the prospective interns precisely because they were interacting so closely with alumni, who were human rights applicants and interns themselves just a few years before.

Zachery Taylor, AB‘17, a 2016 Human Rights Intern and 2017 recipient of the Dr. Aizik Wolf Post-Baccalaureate Fellowship in Human Rights, returned to campus earlier this quarter to interview applicants. Now a law student at Chicago-Kent, he explains, “My own experience in the Human Rights Internship Program formed the backbone of my current career trajectory. Having been in their shoes only a few years ago, I know they’re definitely nervous to see how things pan out, but I’m stoked to watch the program give them everything it gave me.” (Salma Elkhaoudi, AB'19)