Everyone: “Hey! How was spring break?!”

Me: “Uh, well I didn’t really have spring break…”

Everyone: “Wait, what do you mean?”

Me: “I actually just got back from Jordan. I was there for a month doing research with the local refugee population.”

Everyone: “No way! That’s so cool! How was it?”

Me: “Oh, you know, it was good. Learned a lot, but still processing it.”

Everyone: “Of course. I want to hear all about it. Let’s get lunch at some point, so you can tell me everything.”

Me: “Absolutely!”

Everyone: “Well, gotta run but that’s so cool.”

Me: “Yeah, it was.”

Grace Egan - DukeImmerse JordanThis little dialogue is a very accurate description of the types of conversations I have had the past two weeks. A lot of my close friends knew I was going to Jordan, but the people you say hi to on the BC plaza or the people in that one discussion group you had freshman year didn’t know my plans; why would they? But in those moments where you do have small talk, spring break is a very easy topic. I enjoy small talk and I enjoy catching-up with friends that I haven’t seen in a month, but the second the combination of spring and break is uttered, I mentally think “ugh.” I think “ugh” because I know I will have to try and describe my experience in Jordan.

I don’t think I am giving my fellow Dukies enough credit. Let’s be honest, my past month was not a normal, run of the mill college experience, so when it comes up, I shouldn’t be surprised that my colleagues actually seem genuinely interested. But nonetheless, I feel “ugh.” How do you synthesize such a complex experience in ten or so words? My best attempt is “Oh, you know, it was good. Learned a lot, but still processing it.” Just enough to give them some satisfaction to their question, but vague enough that I don’t need to really divulge every single thought I am wrestling to understand. Again, I think that most of my friends would be interested in hearing about my experience in depth, but how do you talk about something that you are still really trying to wrap your head around? I usually don’t think I would do the experience justice even if I did sit down for an hour talking about it.

This feeling of “ugh” actually took me for surprise. During the month, I never really struggled with my emotions or my relationship to the people we were interviewing. I don’t mean to say that I wasn’t acutely aware of my role in the interviews, but the interviews just felt like interviews with people and I was listening to an interesting life story. I had interviews; I transcribed; I repeated. This makes me sound quite callous, but I had a lot of work and didn’t have the time to process what I was doing and what I was feeling. But when I came back to Duke, I certainly felt the culture shock. The complete 180 I experienced in 20 hours of travel was alarming.

Little by little, I am coming to terms with my experience but who knows if I will ever truly process what I heard, what I saw, and what I learned. I am really thankful to have had this experience and I know that I will continue to think about it for the rest of my life. I know that with time the “ugh” will diminish but right now that’s where I am at. I can only hope to eventually be the voice that so many of the families asked me to be. I realize that it is my job to be that voice and even though I can’t find it right now, I will.


Thursday evening, I went to a conversation and workshop about international volunteering and the social implications that it has on communities and individuals. The people running the event implored us to ask the critical questions about our work and what it means. So, following their lead, I started asking myself the critical questions. Why me? What makes me special to do this job? Did DukeEngage really need to spend all this money for me to work at my internship? Am I worth all the effort? Couldn’t another student in Ireland do what I am doing? Granted, I am beyond thankful that I’ve had this experience but last night just reminded me of all the challenging questions you should ask yourself before you go abroad to work or volunteer.

When I read these questions, they seem pretty cynical or at least pretty negative. I think they imply that answers have to be in the negative. Why me? Answer: it doesn’t really need to be you. What makes me special to do this job? Answer: You aren’t actually that special, but your network got you here. Did DukeEngage really need to spend all this money on me? Answer: Probably not. Am I worth all the effort? Answer: Probably not. Couldn’t another student in Ireland do what I am doing? Answer: Sure they could.

Uninspiring right? So quickly these questions can turn volunteering into a paralyzing experience. People at Duke talk about these huge ideas about volunteering and service and anytime I leave those conversations I leave feeling down. I leave feeling that I can’t do any real good, I am replaceable, I am privileged, and no one wants my misplaced service which might just be a manifestation of my guilt. I mean, goodness, how does anyone do anything when you have conversations like that? I think people can become so caught up in all the reasons why service is complicated and why service has serious social implications that they become disheartened.

But what about the little wins? I fully recognize that I am not some super special 20-year-old that was born to save the world, but can I not feel good about the work I am doing? Can I not believe that I have had some small impact? And honestly, maybe the answer is indeed no, but I can try and look at the positives before being swallowed by the negatives.

Over my internship I’ve celebrated a lot of little wins, I think. Firstly, I worked on family reunification applications and though I am not a lawyer, I am an excellent photocopier and file tracker. When my supervisor worked with the client through specifics of the application, I might run out of the room to make copies of birth certificates or family registries. I concede anyone can make photocopies, but I know that without those photocopies, the client’s application couldn’t have been sent in. Yes, my impact was small, but it mattered. Maybe this is naïve but hey, it works for me. Also, I have done a lot of mini research projects. I researched adoption laws in Zimbabwe, deportations of Syrians from Saudi Arabia, forced disappearances in Syria, the Khan al Sheh Refugee camp, and material conditions in South Sudan to mention a few. All of this research helped add dimensions to visa applications, family reunification applications, and IHAP applications. I actually saw when my research showed up in cover letters and applications which felt pretty great. Maybe, just maybe, that will help the client’s case enough to succeed. Again, I concede someone else could do that research, but should that stop me from feeling good about my work? And finally, I am going through Nasc’s hate crime and racist report files and archiving them. Eventually, I will present the data and work to type up a policy recommendation. The people working specifically on this project in the past haven’t had the time to go through all of the files so that’s where my presence is key. And after all of the archiving, I will be able to produce something with an actual impact like a policy recommendation. That’s a win for me.

At the end of the day I think you need to have those uncomfortable, challenging, and personally criticizing conversations because they reveal the motivations behind your work, but you also have to be gracious with yourself. Without those questions I previously asked myself, I could be disillusioned with my impact or with my importance, but if I focus too much on all the ways I could be wrong, I won’t be able to work at all. So, I will continue to celebrate the little wins, but I will also try to check myself before I walk through Nasc’s doors or board a flight for my next international project.


I have worked with the refugee community in Durham pretty intimately for the past two years, but my placement at Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, has already expanded my knowledge on a topic that I thought I knew a lot about. My understanding about refugees and resettlement has come from personal interactions and research on pretty general topics. Nasc on the other hand has very intimate interactions with their clients, but they know the very specific details on the law and how it affects immigrants. This is a perspective on migration and resettlement that I had never been exposed to before this week. And let me tell you that it has already created so many questions in my mind and has complicated my understanding of something that I thought I knew very intimately.

Right now, Ireland is finishing its first round of IHAP applications. IHAP stands for Irish Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme 2, which is Ireland’s new process for family reunification. Meaning, if you live in Ireland as a refugee or under subsidiary protection and you come from UNHCR’s list of top ten major source countries of refugees, you can apply for your family members to come live with you. The deadline for the first round of IHAP is June 30th, so Nasc has been flooded with clients trying to fill out this application and making sure they have all the right paperwork.

My knowledge coming in on legal complications during the resettlement process was very limited, and it still is, but I knew it was a mess. I knew that it was extremely difficult and nuanced, but the first meeting I sat in on opened my eyes to a whole lot of bureaucracy that I wasn’t ready for. The requirements for IHAP are extensive. The requirements are split into two categories: one, the proposer and two, the proposed beneficiaries. The proposer is the resident of Ireland and he or she needs one of the three items, 1) a certified copy of his or her Irish Residence Permit card, 2) a certified copy of all pages of his or her Irish Passport, or 3) a certified copy of his or her Certificate of Naturalization. This is the easy part, but the amount of people who came in with a copy but it wasn’t certified, or the solicitor had made a mistake on the certification was great.

Now comes the tricky part. The proposer needs to have the following on behalf of the beneficiary:

1) Certified color copy and certified translation of passport (all pages), national identity card, a valid Travel Document or proof of registration with UNHCR.

2) Certified color copies and certified translations of any documents that show evidence of a family connection such as marriage certificates or birth certificates.

3) Two color passport-sized photographs for each proposed beneficiary. The name of the beneficiary is to be written clearly in block capitals on the back of each photograph.

4) In the case of a minor beneficiary (person under 18 years of age), who is the child of the proposer (see eligible categories), a letter of consent from the other parent (if applicable) granting permission for the child to travel to and reside in the State will be required.

5) In the case of a vulnerable close relative who is under the age of 18, sufficient evidence that the proposer has parental responsibility for the minor will be required.

Getting all of these for my own sister would be difficult enough, but imagine you are trying to get your niece’s information from Syria. Getting these documents costs money and a lot of time, which not all of these proposers can afford. Without all of these documents, the application is automatically dismissed, so every piece is crucial.

On one hand, I get why Ireland has so many requirements to prove family relation and personal responsibility for the beneficiaries. The Ministry of Justice doesn’t want people abusing the system or bringing in people that aren’t in fact a part of their family. These are all very valid reasons, but sitting in those meetings watching the clients faces change when they realize the amount of work they are going to have to do really makes me wonder what would be so with a few more migrants in Ireland? At the same time there are only a very limited number of spots that Ireland has to offer, so what would be so bad with less harsh requirements if the number of people will still be the same?

As an individual who is thinking going into law as a career, my few days at Nasc have shown me how difficult the law can be for people who are at the mercy of it. Everyone has to follow the law, but when someone’s livelihood, safety, and existence is dependent on a plastic card that could be taken away, the meaning of the law has a whole new definition. If nothing, I am just so appreciative of Nasc’s work because without it what would these people do? I am sure they would try and figure the law out by themselves, but the inaccessibility of the language and the requirements would certainly make them stumble as it has done to me. This week has made me even more curious how law is intertwined in everything that we do, but also has made me question who it is helping.