How my internship has helped me 2 months later

Three months after my internship has ended, two after I have spent two weeks in the interior of Turkey, and one month after I have moved to a new country to start a new life for five months, I have a lot to say and reflect upon about how my internship experience this summer for a mere six weeks has impacted and continues to impact me in my every day thoughts and aspirations. The most important difference I note in my post-internship self is that when I say to people that I want to be a human rights lawyer, I know more what I mean and I can describe examples of what type of work I would be happy doing.

There is a lot that has happened recently that has made me happy and grateful to have had the experience I did. First of all, when I went to the interior of Turkey and was only some miles away from Syria, and we could see the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, and to see those people there made me feel helpless–we were just driving by but are they ok? Are they being tortured? As a human rights lawyer I would be able to work on cases like that. Next, presently, in the hard times we are experiencing right now as a human entity with the refugees from Syria and their lack of places to go for international help, it makes me grateful for the work that refugee and asylum lawyers do to help. As I look back on my experiences working with the children especially, I can be proud and grateful that this is a field I have fallen into and I look forward to developing this passion further, especially in light of all the human rights violations and atrocities I might be able to help mediate on an individual level, case by case, in the future.

Currently, I am interning in Argentina at a human rights organization where there is a whole judicial aspect to the human rights law–additionally, here in Argentina, there are so many laws about human rights because after the last dictatorship there was a lot that needed regulations. Due to that, there is a large abundance of human rights law work that can be done here in Argentina and I am so excited to explore those options. Additionally, my internship has provided me with many opportunities to attend conferences in human rights and I am so excited to attend the conference this coming wednesday on universal jurisdiction since at my internship I learned about that through a case the lawyers at the institute were working on that would take place in Spain since it is a country with universal jurisdiction. When the lawyer I am working with at the foundation here in Argentina brought up the law, it was much easier for me to understand it in spanish after already having the basis in english, and also, I felt more credible when talking about the law because I was able to say that I understood what was going on and I was able to contribute to the conversation about why there should be universal jurisdiction. That is one of the main reasons I am also very thankful for this past internship–it has made me more knowledgeable in this field and given me the basic tools necessary to converse with others and learn more about the field. Once you have the base knowledge, you can move onto the next level, and my internship this summer at Cardozo Law Institute of Human Rights has not only given me a wonderful knowledge base, but it has sparked a passion in me that I am eager to continue exploring.

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How Have I Grown?

I think this internship has been a very great experience for my development.

Before this internship, I wasn’t fully aware of what that was or what it meant to be a “human rights lawyer,” but what I did know, was that’s what I wanted to be. But how can you want to be something of which you know not much? Well, there are some things that we are drawn to in life—either as a result of our education, our community environments, our homes, our role models, etc.—and for me, human rights became that passion. I won’t go into how that began because then I would talk about the Armenian Genocide and I talk about that way too often, but I will talk about how amazing I feel this internship has been in helping me define human rights law and helping me further solidify my belief that this is indeed what I wish to do with my life.

I believe it is very important to wake up every morning and be happy to go to work—to have a passion that you work towards each day furthering and fulfilling. Here in the law clinic where I work, I get that feeling. I get the feeling that the people here love what they do, and they are happy, and most importantly, I feel that I would feel that way too if I were to do this every day. I have always believed that I am special (not because of anything I did but more because my mother tells me that every day and I’m starting to believe it), and I don’t mean to be conceited, but what’s wrong with believing you are special? Sure, you should be humble, but if it can get you somewhere important (since confidence is key,) then I say it’s important to think that way of yourself. Anyway, the point of that was that when I’m here, I can see myself in the shoes of the lawyers I work with. I can feel that if I go into this field, I will do something special. I can have a connection with my clients in a way that I want. You know, law has always been something I’ve wanted to do—I want to be a lawyer like Matthew Mcconaghey in A Time to Kill, where he gives an AMAZING closing argument and wins the case for a black man in the south where that has never happened before. I want to give a killer closing argument and be a litigator who helps people and connects with them—this is what I believe I can do in this field and I am so glad this experience has been nothing but inspiring.

My experience there was kind of difficult the first week. The woman who had been doing all the work I was about to do was leaving for a month, I didn’t know where anything was, I had to print things from the X drive (#1, I am terrible with computers–what is an X drive??? #2, How do I find what I need in the X drive? There are a bajillion folders in there!), I had to bind evidence packets, etc There was just a lot I needed to do and I like to be shown how to do things more than once and the worst part was that I LOVE asking questions, but the girl to whom I could direct all my questions was away in Amsterdam!! I remember writing everything down word for word of what she said that first week our time there overlapped so that I could do everything right. Looking through my notes from the beginning of the internship, it’s amazing to see how nervous I was, but what is more amazing, is how one grows and learns from those experiences. I really think that learning to figure things out on your own, and not asking a question every time you are unsure about something, is a lesson in itself and leads one to be more self-dependent. I am very glad for that skill and I think that was the most important skill I learned there. I am thankful for that.

Last day

Today is the last day of my internship and there are many thoughts running through my head. First, these past six weeks have been an amazing experience. I have loved every moment of my time here and I am so grateful for every opportunity I have received. I wrote thank you letters to my supervisors and in them, I just couldn’t stop speaking of how much I’ve learned and how thankful I am to have received all the opportunities I did. Even though I am not a  law student, I was given responsibilities that really helped me develop my skills as a student and develop my passion for this type of law. For example, when working on asylum cases, I got to opportunity to translate affidavits from english to spanish, to help strengthen the legal arguments by pointing out flaws in practice interviews that make the case more questionable, and to help the client feel their best and most prepared for the interview that day by building a connection with them and letting them know you are there to help them. Then, even more than all of that, I got to go to the interview at the USCIS (United States Custom and Immigration Services) and sit with the lawyer, the client, the translator, and the officer while the client was questioned. I got to watch how the lawyer took notes, what she thought was most important, what she objected to or commented on, and most of all, the discussion after in the car helped me understand what she thought of everything that happened, and to learn that I had some of the same thoughts and objections as her, gave me hope that this is the kind of work I definitely want to do because it comes natural to me. Many things in life I look to others to understand how to feel about them (as many of us do all the time), and we look to others to see how we should react, etc. But for this, every time the lawyer commented on something, or told me in the car that she was going to comment on something, most of those comments I had written down as well. Being in that interview I could see myself being in the lawyer’s position–I could see and feel myself there and more than just being there, I would be happy there.

I am really grateful for this opportunity because it has taught me that there is so much variety in life to our options and opportunities, but also that in this Human Rights Law field, there is a lot that can make me happy, and I have finally found a path I am exited to embark upon.

The Future

This summer I have been introduced to so many different types of human rights law. While I had decided at a young age that I wanted to be a  lawyer (by decided I mean that’s what I’ve been telling everyone  want to be “when I grow up”) I didn’t know what type. All I knew was that I wanted to be in the court room litigating cases (mind you I didn’t know the word “litigate” until about two years ago, so to me, I wanted to “be in the courtroom and win a case like Elle from Legally Blonde) and making the courtroom my stage. I never wanted to do tax law or corporate law or anything where I sit at a desk all day do paper work. I wanted to be up in the courtroom on my feet arguing and helping people, and litigation was where I saw that was. However, when I got involved with the Human Rights Center at Claremont McKenna College, I felt I really connected with the material. I began my work with the center with something close to my heart–the Armenian Genocide– and continued my work there with different projects I put my heart and soul into. So, when I found out there was a type of law called Human Rights Law, of course I wanted to explore it–and that’s exactly what Cardozo has given me the opportunity to do.

While here for six weeks, I’ve seen the projects that the clinicians have been working on. Three of them are working on a international criminal justice case with the Center for Justice and Accountability, another on homosexual rights in the U.S. and another works on asylum cases. I’ve been so fortunate to get the opportunity to help with these projects during my 6 weeks here and I’ve learned so much. I have definitely felt a connection with the asylum law, but not really with different issues such as gender inequality or female reproduction rights, etc. While those are extremely important parts of a human’s rights, I have learned here that it is important to advocate for what you are passionate about. There are a great number of people who love that kind of work, and it is my job to figure out a way I can love what I do and being at this internship has helped me cross things off and add things to my list of possible options. Of course I don’t need to figure anything out now, but it’s great to have ideas. I believe there is nothing you can do too early to get a sense of what you want to do in the future, and for me, this work at CLIHHR (Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights) has guided me onto my path for the future.

While I felt I really connected with the asylum cases, the cause  I feel the most connected to and get most excited about when people speak of it, is this international criminal law. I know I don’t have to choose yet what type of human rights law I want to do, but I’d like to write it down here so I can remember my thoughts. I think because of my background with the Armenian Genocide, international criminal law is something very important to me. Perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be held accountable (unlike what happened to the Turkish officials after the Armenian Genocide in 1915–then again, there was no Universal Declaration of Human Rights at that point(came out in 1948) and Rafael Lemkin had not yet coined the term genocide (also 1948) ).  So hopefully I can do some work in the international criminal courts, or the European Court of Human Rights prosecuting those guilty of crimes against humanity since that is what I feel most connected to and, at this point, would feel most excited about doing each day.

This internship has helped me think about how I’d like to shape my future. One thing that came out of this was that I have solidified a recurring desire of mine to work on the psychology of violence. I have always been very interested in why the perpetrators do what they do, and how they garner followers, and I even wrote a paper about it about Hitler freshman year for my human rights and genocide class. I think it is very important to understand the psychology of the criminals. And I had been thinking it’s an important piece if you want to be an international criminal defense litigator, but one of my supervisors made a great point today when I was remarking on how ironic and upsetting that would be to be a criminal defense lawyer for people who have committed atrocious crimes. She said–yes but if you can understand the psychology as a prosecutor, then you can better attack the defendant because you can understand why they did what they did and then find the loopholes in that argument–or something like that. I found that very important, to realize that a field can help you in both ways, and it made me very happy that all my passions are coming together. Psychology and Spanish with a human rights sequence is a perfect combination of what I love and what will help me in my future, and I am so excited to pursue my studies with these future goals in mind.

Inspiration

Today is the second to last day of my internship here at Cardozo Law School and I have had nothing but wonderful experiences. I am so lucky to have gotten this opportunity and so grateful that the people I have worked with here have been nothing but kind, knowledgeable, and encouraging. Today for lunch two of my supervisors took me out and we talked about my time here and my time in the future. Of course they told me to stay in touch and that this was not the end of our relationship, but it was still wonderful to get many great pieces of advice for moving forward. I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned here is that there are so many different types of Human Rights Law. There are so many great opportunities, so many different types of law that people are practicing, and it is really exciting to know that there is such a wide field I desire to go into where I can truly fulfill my passion in the way I want, doing what I want–without being confined or restricted by obstacles and barriers.

We discussed so many great things at lunch and one topic was on different authors to read on Human Rights Law. They mentioned, Christine Chinkin, Hilary Charles, Dinah Shelton, Tom Buergenthal, Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Frank Newman, Rafael Lemkin, Beth Stephens, and more. I learned of different pieces they wrote that I can read. They told me about how they got involved in the field and how they’ve gotten to where they are today. I learned about how wonderful the peace corps is! I learned that I can intern at the International Criminal Court to see if that’s really what I want to do, etc.

At the end, I asked for one piece of advice–something they wish someone had told them. The two pieces of advice I got were, to definitely take time in between college and law school-don’t go straight there! People do better and enjoy law school more when they have 2-5 years of real world experience. AND, don’t have children too soon. If you want to do international criminal law, make sure you give yourself time to do field work and experience the field.

Anyway, I am very lucky to have met such great role models with such great advice. They have truly made my time here pleasurable and I’ve learned how wonderful and necessary it is to love your work environment. I believe everything happens fro a reason, and finding this internship happened for reasons I can see now, and I hope many more great benefits in the future that I have yet to see.

Summer 2015 Blog #1- Asylum Interview

Waking up at 5 am on a humid summer day to catch a 5:46 am train to one location where you will then transfer to a 6:47 am train to another, to then take a car to the final destination, is not the ideal morning of a college student’s summer vacation day. Especially if said college student goes to bed at 2 am because tv seems more important than sleep at the time. However, I believe that if the event is something meaningful, a poor night’s sleep is nothing one can’t conquer, and waking up before the sun is surely something to confront with excitement rather than complaint. At least, that’s how I felt this morning as I prepared for my first visit to the asylum office with a client here at the human rights clinic at Cardozo Law School where I am interning.

For the past six weeks I have been helping out with the Refugee Representation Project at the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights. Through this project, the Institute takes on different asylum cases and helps clients each semester who are affirmatively seeking asylum. On the friday of my first week interning here, I met client X. She had just gotten her fingerprints done and was coming to the school to practice her testimony for the asylum officer. I got a chance to read her story before hand, but it was phenomenal to see this girl come to life from the paper when I met her and we went through the story. To be honest, it was a lot to handle–it was about two hours long, and a bit draining since it was hard material to listen to, however, it was rewarding and eye-opening. I have always said that I wanted to do human rights law, but I’ve never known exactly which fields I’ve wanted to go into, but that day I found a connection to something I had never explored. I continued to attend the meetings with Client X (there were only two after that) and each meeting was more and more meaningful. In the first meeting I just listened, but in second meeting the lawyer encouraged my participation and encouraged me to intervene and ask the client questions as well–if something doesn’t make sense or you find an area where her story contradicts itself or where she is not being clear, I was encouraged to intervene. Engaging and helping the client find a way to say what she meant in different ways was inspiring and educational. I learned so much in those next two meetings and most of all, I connected with the client in a way that is so important in this type of work.

The day of the interview was one I had awaited with excitement and nervousness at the same time. Nervousness for the client, for what would happen if she had to go back to her country, for how she could best represent herself and her case…then being in that room with the asylum officer was a brand new experience and I am so glad I was given the opportunity to be there. To se what it’s like for all in the situation–the lawyer, the client, the officer, etc, was something that I think is very important in this kind of work, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to experience that. There is more I’d like to say, but I don’t know how to express how I feel, nor do I think I can say anymore without giving specific details–but one thing I will say is that I truly believe I can be happy doing this work for the rest of my life. The night we stayed with the client from 6-9 pm going over her case, I didn’t mind going home so late–I was excited and the learning experience was something unparalleled.

Overview: Blog #7

At my last week of Culture Project, I tried three times to post a blog that really summed up what I was feeling as all the strings came together to tie up my internship experience, however, I left it open on my computer too long and it got deleted each time. So now, after sufficiently getting over my frustration with my computer and myself, I have the willpower to sit here and write one really great last blog.

After a few weeks away from Culture Project, and after explaining to many people what I did this summer, I have a really great sense of how this experience benefited me, as well as how it did not. One piece of advice that has become a recurring theme in my head is that all experiences are advantageous because if you are not learning about the things you like, you are learning about the things you don’t like, and forming those opinions can help a person better understand him/herself and their desired work environment. I realize that many of my comments about this summer had to do with my annoyance at the fact that I had to do remedial tasks such as mopping the floor and painting the walls. However, preceding and following each of those comments came a positive aspect of my summer and my time at Culture Project. I believe it is important to focus on all the great things that came out of this summer, and then talk about all my “peeves” and how I worked to view them as part of the learning experience. 

If I think of the whole summer, there are a number of experiences I can highlight in my mind as being exciting projects which enticed me to come to work each day. The first was our task to come up with human rights/social justice issues we believed were prevalent in modern day society. Once we chose three topics, we began to research them. The three topics were: the inequality in education based on socioeconomic status, the injustices at the US-Mexico Border, and the stigma against those in poverty. There were three interns in total at the office this summer, and while we each did a bit of research on each category, we mostly each worked on the one specific issue which concerned us most. For me, it was the injustice immigrants face at the border patrol detainment centers. Researching these issues was informative and interesting, however, I lacked a structure or a goal for my research…I suppose that is what made the research a bit more stressful since I did not know what exactly our final project was going to be with this research, and for that, it made it a bit more tedious to research these topics than interesting. However, that is still a positive because I learned how to make a structure for myself when such things are not given to me.

Another exciting project I was tasked with, was to read two plays that Culture Project was to put on in its upcoming season and analyze the two and write a synopsis for them and an analysis of them. It was a really great experience to be in contact with some theatre at this theatre internship (since their season stopped for the summer, there was no opportunity for me to work on or see any of their productions) and it was great to read the play before it even went into a simple form of a production stage. Reading the plays really inspired me to continue to have these aspirations of writing plays based on social justice issues because you really can use your voice to reach so many people in an entertaining way, and I would love to send messages that I believe are important to our society, and I would hope that others can do the same with issues they believe are important, so that in the end, we have a cohesive display of knowledge of these issues. 

One last really exciting project was that I got to go through all different “theatre/human rights” related posts on kickstarter and take notes on what those organizations were doing to get supporters, and then file that into a plan Culture Project could use to get supporters. So it was really cool to see how people go about advertising themselves, and it was really a valuable experience for me to see that it isn’t just  a whimsical decision, or a “to-do” task, but it actually requires a lot of research before hand! 

The few peeves in the office that I learned to use to my advantage were: the lack of communication, the lack of organization, and the lack of consideration for our knowledge/ to make us feel welcome.

I understand that if you work in a theatre, someone will have to mop the floor, but I did not see that as the intern’s job, and when I mentioned that to my supervisor, she explained that someone has to do it and by giving the responsibility to us, we could further understand all the responsibilities that come with running a theatre. I guess that was sort of valid and painting the walls fits under those responsibilities as well, but I believe my knowledge could have been used for something other than mopping the floor and painting the walls. However, what I did get out of this experience is learning how to openly express my concerns and feelings. I may have waited until our “debrief” phone call, but I did still express my concern about this task and I am glad I was not afraid to do that.

As far as the lack of communication and organization, both faults gave me better insight into what not to do and better ideas for how to run my own organization (should I ever create something similar to this) by looking to this environment as one I was happy to learn from, but would not want to recreate. 

Lastly, there was no feeling of warmth in the organization. I wasn’t greeted when I walked in every morning, I barely conversed with anyone in the one room office we all sat in all day, and my questions were answered with a condescending tone. While I understand these people are not my colleagues but rather my superiors, I still believe  a bit of warmth would have been conducive to the working environment. However, one thing I learned from that is that such warmth does not radiate from everyone, it will not be in every workplace I work at, and if it’s not there, I know how to deal with it and make the best of the situation anyway! Hey, I did that this summer! So, no worries there. I learned that I can handle a bit of the cold-shoulder and still do my work effectively. 

The last project we did where we created a documentary based on interviews we had with experts in each field really helped solidify the Culture Project experience for me in a positive light, and while the editing may be a bit shaky on the documentary, I am very proud of it and would love to show it to anyone interested. The goal was to put it on Facebook, but I don’t really think many people will watch it. However, it’s a great end product I can look back to and say, “hey, my summer at Culture Project was really educational and rewarding, and I’m glad I did it.” And hey, I had the best of both worlds! I got to work in New York City at an organization that does exactly what I’m interested in, and I got to be home with my family each and every day. Who can complain about that?! Definitely not me, that’s for sure.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,

-Anoush Baghdassarian