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Giving Refugees a Helping Handshake

Photo-IRC-RefugeesLanguage barriers. Financial worries. Finding a job. Refugees face enormous hardships, especially during the first few months in the U.S. On Giving Tuesday, a group from Brown Paper Tickets visited the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Seattle to facilitate mock job interviews with a refugee group who just arrived to the U.S. a few weeks ago.

Brown Paper Tickets allows every employee to use an extra 40 paid hours per year to give back to the community via nonprofit volunteering. Through this benefit, we’ve collaborated with some amazing organizations and met some inspiring people.

Founded in 1933 at Albert Einstein’s request, the IRC offers emergency aid and assistance to refugees and those displaced by war. The IRC works in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, restoring safety and hope.

We joined the IRC for a day of job readiness training unsure what to expect. We left with a deep admiration for the participants and the realization that despite different backgrounds, we face similar challenges at new jobs.

To break the ice, we went around the room and dished about our first jobs. A volunteer from our group told us about biking through a treacherous blizzard to deliver newspapers. One of the refugees shared a story about fighting off feral dogs while carrying large bags of food. The anecdotes varied wildly from sad to funny, but the takeaways were similar. Everyone made mistakes and felt unprepared at their first jobs.

Volunteering with refugeesAfter the round of introductions and stories, we began mock interviewing. We practiced standard questions, such as “what are your strengths?” and exchanged ideas on what U.S. employers look for in candidates. Eye contact and strong handshakes are not a custom practice everywhere and relaying skills, even to a prospective employer can feel very uncomfortable to those from other countries.

The room filled with nervous laughter as we went through the questions and shared interview tips. As we started to pack up our stuff, one man said, “The IRC are our first American friends. You are the second. Are we going to be friends for life?”

Whoa, that made it hard to leave. But they’re in good hands with the IRC. And we had such a positive, rewarding experience, we know we’ll return one day.

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