As a descendant of refugees, protecting the human rights of others is more than a passion for Arkansas Tech University alumna Stephanie Ratsamy of Fort Smith. It's personal.
That's why she is working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Wichita, Kan., to assist clients from sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia with case management, employment, immigration paperwork and adult education services.
"I’ve always been aware of the challenges that refugees and immigrants face in a new country because of my own background, but each day my clients teach me something new," said Ratsamy, who is descended from family members who left Laos to move to the United States. "They teach me things about themselves, such as how many languages they speak, what types of dishes they have back home, they share stories about coming to the U.S., their hopes and dreams, how to say something in their native languages and much more. What I am reminded of when I come to work is that people are more or less the same regardless of where they come from. We all just want safety, a chance at a sustainable future and to be happy. Working with refugees has widened my world view and cultural understandings, but also taught me that at the very core we’re all similar."
Ratsamy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies at Arkansas Tech in 2017. She earned a place on the Dean's List in multiple semesters, was active in the Global Connect conversation partner program with international students, worked as an English language tutor and served as a lab assistant for peers studying French.
"I sincerely appreciate and value the education I was able to get at ATU," said Ratsamy. "I believe obtaining my degree in international studies of cultural affairs with minors in teaching English as a second language (TESL) and German prepared me to transition into the field that I’m in. I especially enjoyed classes like comparative government and United Nations with Dr. (Christopher) Housenick that pushed me to think about how the various governments and policies in the world influence the events we experience today. My experience learning German from (Gabriele) Haulmark and (Dr. Ursula) Chandler and studying abroad in Austria taught me how hard it is to operate in a foreign language and culture, which although very differently, allows me the ability to understand some of the difficulties my clients have. Getting my minor in TESL and working with Dr. (Rebecca) Garvin gave me the tools I needed to help assist with the (English as a second language) classes and work with the adult education coordinator."
After she gains more work experience, Ratsamy plans to attend graduate school in Germany and study human rights.
"I’m open to many paths and often envision myself as an immigration or civil rights lawyer, as a program coordinator, or perhaps farther down the road, an executive director," said Ratsamy. "Ultimately, my number one career goal is to promote fundamental human rights for everyone through the opportunities I’m given."
Visit www.Rescue.org/Wichita to learn more about IRC-Wichita.
Disclaimer: Stephanie Ratsamy's responses are her own and do not reflect the IRC organization as a whole.