COLA Connections Newsletter: Spring 2016

Student Spotlight: Amanda Schartau-- Serving Her Community by Learning About the World

Fourth year International & Global Studies major Amanda Schartau certainly knows how to keep herself busy. Balancing a field specialization in global justice, peace and conflict issues, studying Spanish and Arabic, serving as the Assistant to the President at the United Nations Association of Rochester and currently as a refugee resettlement volunteer, Amanda has demonstrated a passionate interest in helping others.

How did you decide to enter your field of study?

I initially began my studies at RIT within the College of Science, but I found it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.  I made several appointments with the Career Services office for career coaching, which is how I learned about the International and Global Studies major. I chose to switch majors and I’m very happy with that decision.  I was aching to pursue a further understanding of conflict and of global human displacement, and this program allows me to do that.

I’m originally from Rochester and have been working with refugees since 2010. The first ever refugee family that I worked with - from the Democratic Republic of the Congo - completed their U.S. citizenship last month, which was exciting! I’ve remained passionate about helping and advocating for refugees, while also learning about the countries from which they flee.

You served as Assistant to the President at United Nations Association of Rochester. What made that experience unique?

I served with the Rochester Chapter of the United Nations from 2014 to 2015 and was amazed to be working with the mission of the UN at a local level. Much of my time was spent in board meetings taking minutes and scheduling meetings, which really allowed me to see how nonprofits operate internally.  As an intern, I helped host German diplomats from our Sister City and organized a major conference for local students, where I facilitated a discussion program for the Foreign Policy Association.

I think what I learned most during the experience was how to develop my own voice during important meetings.  I also witnessed the impact of educating the community on current issues. And the other interns I met during this time are among my best friends today.

What are some of the biggest successes you've had at your various positions?

This year, I am the recipient of the Bruce R. James Distinguished Public Service Award, which is a huge honor.

In the summer of 2014 I studied abroad at RIT’s global campus in Prishtina, Kosovo with their Post-Conflict Transformation and Development Program to understand the perspectives of global conflicts, with specific attention to the wars in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans. I fell in love with the country, culture, people and the incredible diplomats, military personnel, journalists and NGO activists I met while there. It created a small fire within me to be a scholar and advocate in the field of global conflicts, with special attention to refugee migrations and experiences.

As an ongoing volunteer to the refugee community, one of my favorite moments was driving to Boston to help resettle a struggling family. Although resettled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Massachusetts, the family of six faced very poor case management and little cultural attachment to their new land. The family did not speak English, and with another refugee from my area we found housing, education, registered for social benefits, and found careers in the Rochester area to support their global transition. Today, the children are speaking English with near fluency and the family is working to achieve citizenship. It’s so amazing to see how far they’ve come.

What are some of the biggest struggles you face in your work?

As a college student, time management is often a struggle. Even though I’m attached to my planner, I still find myself very busy with commitments. I’ve learned the easiest way to manage is to write down everything and monitor where my time is being allocated.

It’s also very easy to become emotionally attached to my refugee families and their incredible stories. It is always my primary goal to promote self-sufficiency and growth, which helps me to remain professional in my work.

Is there anything you hope to change about your field?

I am most concerned with advocating for refugees and immigrants, especially within our local community. There are always people who are anxious to help with these populations and I’d love to create an easier way for volunteers to become involved in addressing refugee outreach. I am also passionate about the policies which impact refugees and immigrants and would love to become more knowledgeable in this field.  Public policies have one of the greatest impacts on refugee resettlement and their successful assimilation into the community.

Do you have any advice for other students hoping to follow a similar path to yours?

Above all, I think it’s most important to find what you’re passionate about and let it consume you. It can definitely be an adjustment at first, but as you become more involved you’ll be amazed at the opportunities you’ll be able obtain and to accomplish. Although I was worried at first to leave for Kosovo, or to drive to Boston to resettle a new refugee family, I’ve found these experiences to be among the most important in my life thus far. If the potential for growth exists, always use your fear to experience change.