Section: Features

Students take their talents off the Hill to spark global change

Students take their talents off the Hill to spark global change

For two Kenyon juniors, this  summer included a lot more than catching up on quality reading.

At a college with limited opportunities for real world experience during the year, students are taking advantage of summer break as a time to apply their studies to career-oriented opportunities.

Katie Connell ’18, who is interested in immigration policy, volunteered for five weeks at a refugee camp in Calais, France with an organization called L’Auberge des Migrants. The camp is colloquially referred to as the “Jungle,” because the area is lined with trees and the word for tree in Pashto (an Afghan language) sounds like the English word for jungle, according to Connell.

Connell was part of the welcome team: she greeted refugees, who primarily came from Afghanistan and the Darfur region in Sudan, and provided them with blankets and a tent. The team also helped refugees find a space to set up their tent, which Connell explained was always a challenge — with upwards of 7,000 people in the camp, there was virtually no space left.

Many refugees in the Jungle spend the entirety of each day “going to chance,” Connell said. The term refers to attempts to get to the United Kingdom — either by climbing onto a truck that would be transported by ferry or onto a moving Eurorail train that runs beneath the English Channel.

“It’s just a lifestyle,” Connell said. “You’d wake up, you’d go to chance, you eat, you go back to chance.”

She said it was gratifying to be working with the members of the camp. “What was really an honor to be working in the Jungle every day was that people are so generous and so multi-faceted and just like want to know you,” Connell said. “They would have me over for chai and that was their way of serving me.”

While Connell was abroad, Catalina Odio ’18 spent her summer stateside, interning at the hub of the nation’s capital: the White House. She worked in the office of Vice President Joe Biden as part of his economic and domestic policy team. Odio, who is considering a career in government or litigation, conducted research and handled memo-writing on timely national issues like gun violence.

Odio particularly enjoyed a series in which White House staff addressed the interns weekly. Speakers included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

“It was strictly off the record, so they were being really candid with us, and we could all raise our hand and talk to them,” Odio said.

One of Odio’s favorite moments was hearing McDonough speak about organization and delegation of work in a group, a skill she hopes to bring back to her work with the Bilingual College Preparatory program for Latin American students in Mount Vernon.

“He spoke a lot about how he ran the office, and it was really cool to see how organizing a group of people, getting things done, even at the highest levels of government — there’s a way to do it that works,” she said. “And that works whether you’re running a student organization or whether you’re running the country.”

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