Victoria Los, at left, in the United Nations General Assembly hall during her recent visit there with a Vermont group of young refugees she has befriended through a St. Mike's internship.
Victoria Los’s mid-September speech in the United Nations Chapel about applying religious principles to local-level and global refugee-assistance efforts revealed the heart of a Saint Michael’s education.
Here was evidence that Catholic liberal arts study creates for students a comfort level with religious values, international perspectives and practical service while promoting career-advancing and mind-expanding connections among all three.
A double-major in English and Religious Studies from Saratoga Springs, NY, Los plans to finish her degree in three years. She said a Relligious Studies internship this semester with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants/The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program has revealed a career path and new passion.
Los aspires to work for a nonprofit after graduation and appreciates the leg-up for imminent job-hunting that her internship provides. But the biggest reward, she said, revolves around friendships with the refugee community, including nearly 25 Vermont young people from age 15 to 25 who joined her September trip to New York for the International Day of Peace Youth Conference.
“As incredible as it was being invited to speak and draw on my studies and experiences with some U.N. members present in the chapel to hear, the most memorable part for me was going through all of this excitement with the refugee youth community in Vermont,” Los said. “It’s so eye-opening to listen to them so casually discuss the things they went through in their home countries – Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Tanzania, Nepal and more: the countless years in a refugee camp … how they lost parents or other family members, and the struggles they still are going through now in Vermont, like working to learn English, or repeating grades in school that they passed in their home countries.”
What sets these young refugees apart from her non-refugee contemporaries is “their compassion, optimism and gratitude,” Los said. Interacting with them has taught her that a purposeful intermingling of cultures is “what is going to make this world a better place.” Despite their challenges, her refugee friends and clients love Vermont, Los said, “and I love being surrounded by so many cultures, languages, and religions.”
The U.N.-supported UNITE is a new group for Vermont which brings together Vermont high school student leaders from different refugee groups for conversation. Los and some of those leaders joined her in attending the morning sessions during their visit, meeting U.N. representatives from the U.S. and India before Los’s short speech in the Chapel on “Religion and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” which led off the session, followed by other students from her group - mostly high school, but a few college age - who told their refugee stories.
Los said in her speech that 84 percent of our world population claims to be religious, “but many do not apply the very doctrines that we preach to their own daily lives. If individuals began to do so, we would be much closer to accomplishing our goals. This is why organizations such as UNITE Vermont are imperative to solving social issues addressed by the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. Since Vermont is one of the least culturally diverse states in the nation, UNITE creates a safe environment for the sharing and mixing of ideas of culture and religion.”
In addition to the speech, Los said, “we went through intense security and were able to sit in on the actually U.N. conference in the New York headquarters for International Day of Peace. I got to listen to Jane Goodall speak, as well as many other U.N. members.”
Los said her internship (guided by her academic supervisor Raymond Patterson of the Religious Studies faculty) has been “a crash course on how many people across the world are displaced,” and, “the more I learn about the tremendous hardships these people experience, the more I realize that this organization and working with refugees is my purpose and developing passion.”
Her speech resulted from a request by her internship work site supervisor to “talk about some of the work we are doing here in Vermont to integrate the refugee youth into the community and get them involved as community leaders, and also to incorporate my knowledge of religion as a religious studies major on how religion can really be a powerful aide in solving many of the world social issues we face today.”
“I really wish a lot of kids my age understood the gratitude and compassion that these cultures emphasize,” she said. “Nobody on this trip was left out or not included in conversation -- everyone looked out for each other and felt supported. Yet this is the group of people so many of Americans don’t want in our country.It made me realize how important the work is of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, not only for the sake of those fleeing their own countries, but for our own benefit as well.”
She said she feels “grateful and blessed that I am able to work with such an amazing group of people, and I really can’t wait to see where this work takes me.”