All summer, I have struggled with the temporary nature of this program. I have tried to strike a balance between doing as much work as I can in these 8 weeks and being realistic about what I can achieve in such a relatively short amount of time. I have become friends with the people I work with, while constantly reminding myself that, with the exception of this summer, we live an ocean apart. As my departure inches closer, now less than three weeks away, the fact that I am a temporary member of my team at the office is only getting harder to stomach.

I have done exactly what I tried not to do: I have become attached. I genuinely look forward to seeing my co-workers on a Monday morning, and I’ve finally developed a significant knowledge base to help contribute to my department’s efforts. I’ve also created genuine friendships with some of the teenagers I work with on Wednesday afternoons. I feel like I’m just getting started, and yet I am not. I’m over halfway done. I have heard that some students continue to work for their placements after they return home, but considering I am working in an office comprised of Irish civil servants, that probably won’t be the case for me.

I’m less worried about “keeping in touch.” With texting, Facebook, and all the other wonders of the internet, I know I can maintain these relationships if I put in the effort. But I have thrown myself into this field in a way that I didn’t know was possible. I read countless news articles about migration over the weekend, and I try to gain more insight on Irish perceptions of immigrants by eavesdropping on conversations on the street and in restaurants. I am applying what I have learned about Irish history and culture to try and explain the current societal transformation in this country over group dinners and in conversations with other students. All the while, I am falling in love with the city of Dublin.

Soon, I will return to my normal life. I will still be able to easily track migration trends in Europe through the news, but I won’t be able to eavesdrop on the streets of Dublin. On Wednesday afternoons, I’ll go to class instead of zip-lining or going to the zoo with teenagers from all over the world. The people I have met here have changed my perception of many complicated issues, and I’ll take that new outlook with me. I hope the work I’ve done and will do in the coming weeks will be helpful to my office and, by extension, the populations it serves.

If all parties have gained something genuinely valuable from the experience, then what’s the issue with the fact that it’s temporary? Perhaps there isn’t an issue at all. I suppose it is only my own growing attachment that will make it so hard to walk away, yet it is this same attachment that has inspired me to embrace this experience so wholeheartedly. It will be difficult to leave and even more difficult to return to normal life after this incredible experience. I could have made it easier by remaining more guarded, but easier isn’t always better.

So, for the next two and a half weeks, I’m going to try not to think about the fact that I’m leaving. Instead of living every day like it’s my last, as the cliché goes, I’m going to live every day like it’s my first. I’m starting a new project at work this week that will involve visiting a number of projects that assist refugee women in preparing for and finding employment. I’m excited to delve into this specific issue and produce a report on the successes and challenges of these programs. I also can’t wait to see how these different non-governmental organizations operate, since my experience thus far has been on the side of government. In other words, normal life will just have to wait a little while longer.


“What do you all think of the issue of living accommodations for asylum-seekers? If we’re talking about the current state of Ireland, we ought to be talking about the injustice occurring every day in those direct provision centers.”

When I hear this question, I’m sitting in a large canvas tent on the coast of Dalkey, a beautiful seaside suburb of Dublin and home of the wonderful annual book festival which I am fortunate enough to attend. The panel I have just listened to about the ‘State of the Irish Union’ was insightful and interesting, but I had been content to simply listen and be fascinated by the conversation, which primarily concerned the recent referendum to legalize abortion. It was not until this first question from the audience that I felt a personal, instinctive and surprisingly defensive reaction.

This summer, I am volunteering for the Department of Justice and Equality at the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration (OPMI). OPMI is responsible for facilitating and creating policy regarding the integration of all migrants, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and other legal immigrants, into Irish society. It is a daunting task, particularly because the progress of integration is incredibly difficult to measure. Just down the hallway, the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) is dealing with an equally challenging task: to provide accommodation and services to all applicants seeking international protection, often by housing these individuals in the aforementioned direct provision centers. All of my co-workers in both of these offices work incredibly hard to do their jobs well, and they genuinely care about the individuals they serve.

So, given the dedication and compassion that I have witnessed at work so far, imagine my natural reaction when I hear an entire panel of journalists and community leaders condemning the entire Department of Justice and Equality, referring to what is supposedly the most optimal direct provision center as a ‘cesspool,’ and equating the entire system of direct provision to the Magdalene Laundries, which were absolutely brutal institutions of confinement.

My initial reaction to all of these denunciations was defensive because my mind at the time was consumed by the kind faces of my new co-workers and their explanations of why things operated the way they did. Since a new system for processing applications for international protection was implemented in 2015, there has been a backlog of cases from the old system that still have not been completed. The direct provision centers are surely not optimal, and anyone in the department will likely agree. However, the centers were never designed or given the resources to house families for multiple years as they often do.

Upon reflecting on this conversation that I witnessed in Dalkey, I have realized that I was too quick to feel so defensive. I have established friendships and working relationships with the wonderful people at the Department of Justice and Equality. At the same time, I cannot let my position as a volunteer for OPMI obscure my vision of this complex and heated political debate in Irish society. More importantly, I cannot dehumanize the people living in these suboptimal centers for years who are quite possibly as victimized as the critics in Dalkey claim, regardless of the well-intentioned people I have met in my office.

Reading through The Irish Times yesterday, I stumbled across a political cartoon criticizing the recent atrocities at the border of the United States and Mexico, where young children are being mercilessly separated from their parents. The catch of the cartoon was that it pointed out the hypocrisy of pointing fingers at the United States while direct provision centers are viewed by many as an equally brutal form of incarceration. This reference to a US political debate made me realize the implications of my internal struggle here as a government intern. I am beginning to wonder: How can my observations about the nuances of the direct provision debate here in Ireland inform my own political opinions and actions at home? Rather than constantly criticizing, how can activists and concerned members of society think more critically about solutions to these astronomical issues? Is this push and pull of outrage and government response simply the natural state of a government and its people, or could this relationship ever be changed for the better?

I did not expect my experience here in Dublin to be so introspective and morally challenging, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn from and work within a society that is rapidly transforming. I hope that my unique perspective as an outsider can positively inform my work at OPMI, and I know I will bring my reflections about the complex nature of these large political issues with me when I return home.