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Summer Internships: Rhea Lim '24

July 28, 2022
Headshot of Rhea Lim

Name: Rhea Lim
Class Year: 2024
Major: Linguistics
Hometown: Singapore

Internship Organization:  Nationalities Service Centre
Job Title: Education Intern
Location: Center City Philadelphia

When I first set up a meeting with Ellie Esmond at the Career and Civic Engagement Centre, I had no idea as to what organisations I could potentially work with in Philadelphia. Despite having spent the past two academic years in this little town of Bryn Mawr that was only a twenty-three minute train ride from the city, I had never had the time nor the confidence to explore a big city and get to know the people in it. I only knew that I wanted to help people like me, who were new to a country and needed a little guidance in getting back on their feet. And so, in applying for Summer of Service I knew my area of interest would have to involve immigrants in any way shape or form, providing the same help that my family and I would have liked to receive when we first came to America. The Nationalities Service Centre (NSC) provides such a broad range of services to refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, and anyone under the umbrella of a newcomer to Philadelphia, and my being an intern for such a huge non-profit has me running around a maze of an office on the third floor of a rented building with air conditioning that cannot be adjusted, performing minute tasks and absorbing the daily humdrum of what goes into such an organisation.

I’ve mainly oscillated between two sections: ESL and family literacy. ESL is quite self-explanatory—one of my responsibilities being enrolling and marketing to potential students and learning about the different migrant demographics in each part of Philadelphia. Family literacy is more nuanced, and focuses on clients from specific countries, with children below a certain age, who are pre-literate (there is an insistence that no one is “illiterate,” only “not yet literate”) in their native language, ranging from Swahili to Pashto. In working for both sections, I’ve met, interacted, and been responsible for the well being of people who have incredible amounts of life experience and bring that to share. I’ve come to really love attempting interaction through a thick language barrier, because there is a certain type of fumbling, eager interaction that happens when neither person can truly understand the other, but all good things must come to an end, and there is always a co-worker who speaks our client’s language showing up with “proper explanations” and “actual communication” to ruin my fun.

I had initially applied for this internship hoping to gain experience teaching adults in a classroom setting, considering my previous experience has only been with children and fellow students my age, but I’ve ended up not teaching at all, and instead doing more things along the lines of case management and administrative work, digging my nails into the nitty gritty of a non-profit and how programs come to be, and how individual contributions become the life blood of an organization. Hands on field work can be exhausting and doing so with clientele who are often embroiled in the trauma of relocation and facing new types of prejudice, and consequently sharing such burdens with you can drain a person.

If I’ve learned anything from this internship it’s the weight that field work can have both in the satisfaction of seeing the direct impact you can have, but also the weight that falls on your shoulders to do everything to solve the problem in front of your very eyes. But knowing my limits is also an extremely important reference to have in picking future endeavours, and understanding what I have the capacity for so as to not fail in my responsibilities; almost as important as identifying my passions themselves and learning how to apply them, one unpaid (but Career and Civic Engagement Centre funded) opportunity at a time.

Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.