Alumna Kick-starts Career in Refugee Work

By Melissa Brooks, College of Arts and Sciences Posted Mon, 04/25/2016 - 13:52

Since graduating from USF, Meredith Kelly ’11 has been hard at work helping refugees around the globe.

In 2014, Kelly began working with refugees in Nairobi, Kenya for the Resettlement Support Center (RSC), for which she traveled around sub-Saharan Africa interviewing refugees of different nationalities and preparing their cases for resettlement to the United States. From there, she went on to prepare resettlement applications for Syrian refugees in Beirut, working with the United Nation’s refugee agency, the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Kelly, who double majored in International Studies and French Studies, said that both programs inspired her to work with refugees and provided her with a solid foundation to start her career. French Studies courses helped cultivate her interest in the developing world while International Studies courses gave her greater insight into the politics of war as well as marginalized groups in war.

“Without one or the other, I wouldn't be doing what I do now.”

The Benefit of Being Multilingual

Kelly often heard that majoring in French would never help her get a job, but the ability to speak French actually gave her a leg up when she was starting her career. Refugee work is a competitive field — most people have to take unpaid internships or positions in remote locations in order to kick-start their careers — but Kelly said being multilingual helped set her apart from Americans who only speak English.

For international work, you get a lot of bonus points by speaking a language fluently even if the job does not require you to speak that language. French is one of the official languages of the UN so it really helps when applying for jobs there or with affiliated organizations.

Kelly’s understanding of French has been indispensable for her work in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, where non-governmental organizations operate in French and many refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi communicate in French.

A Rare Privilege

Kelly continues to assist Syrian refugees with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). She interviews families about their reasons for fleeing their country and prepares resettlement referrals to submit to any country formally resettling Syrians, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and various countries in Europe. Kelly said the opportunity to talk to these families on a daily basis is a rewarding experience.

“It’s a rare privilege to be able to hear the progression of a war straight from the people who were there and most affected by it and that is why I want to continue to work with refugees.”