Hello! My name is Victoria Kulesza and I am a senior majoring in International Relations and Spanish with minors in Peace and Justice Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Eastern European and Eurasian Studies. During my time at MSU as a PJS student I have had numerous opportunities to utilize what I have learned in the classroom throughout the different internship opportunities I have had. Two summers ago, I was the Project Intern for a human rights NGO in Barcelona, Spain that provides for the basics needs and human rights of refugees and irregular migrants in the area. As a first-generation American, the experience really inspired me to advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants―an issue that becomes increasingly relevant today. I have also been fortunate enough to spend this past summer in New York City interning for the United Nations Population Fund, an agency of the United Nations that promotes gender equality and international development. There I analyzed development plans for country offices all over the world and gained professional skills and connections that I would not have been able to find anywhere else.
Currently, I am part of the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service internship program working under Human Rights Officer of the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia. This is a virtual internship that allows me to research and report on human rights cases in Bolivia for the embassy while I finish my last year in East Lansing, so if you are also a student looking for any good opportunities for the year be sure to check out the VSFS program! After I graduate I hope to serve in the Peace Corps and later become a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department!
Guest Post by PJS Senior Nora Charron
During this past summer, I interned at the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy (IREEP) in Benin, West Africa. It is associated with the African School of Economics in Cotonou, the largest city in Benin. I was one of four research assistants who worked on a public health research project while there. Our project focused on road accidents in Benin and how the emergency care system handles such incidents. The driving and rules of the road in Benin were unlike any other I have ever seen. There is always a great deal of traffic, and speed limits and lanes seemed more suggestive than enforced. There is a high percent of accidents each year resulting in many injuries and deaths as well. Often time’s medical taxis cannot take the injured to a hospital or clinic in a timely manner, or at all. It was really interesting to see the contrast between rural and urban areas with hospitals/clinic, seeing as more resources were in the urban areas. Using the statistical programing system STATA, my job included analyzing data collected and researching trends and laws, as well as compiling a formal final report to be used at the institute and in the long run the Ministry of Health.
Benin is a really vibrant and welcoming country. I spoke French for the majority of my internship, and while it was challenging I think my language skills have improved. I lived at the research institute with the other interns, and during free we liked going down to the stands on the main roads to buy vegetables or fruit, or our personal favorite fried plantain. We often went into Cotonou which was a short drive away and explore the city. While Benin is seen as a small country geographically, it had a lot of history and culture to offer.
I think my favorite part of the internship was the opportunities we had to talk to professionals from UNICEF, WHO, UNAID and PSI. We interviewed and were able to speak with different people within these organizations about their thoughts and work on road accidents, as well as other health disparities in Benin or West Africa as a whole. I really enjoyed being able to go to the offices of these organizations and understand how they are run and see first- hand the kind of work they do. Any of these organizations are ones I would love to work for so it was really beneficial and interesting. I loved being in Africa over the summer and am looking forward to the next time I go back!