By Samantha Abear
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that since Jan. 1, 2016, a total of 166,465 migrants and refugees have arrived to Europe by land and sea. We are in the midst of what is being called the Refugee Crisis.
Students of John Cabot University (JCU) engage with the Refugee Crisis in different ways. Members of STAND Club volunteer at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, teaching English. Members of the International Relations Society organize guest lectures and discussions on the topic. Others, like Chiara Di Maio, graduate from JCU and intern for IOM, go deeper into the heart of the issue.
Growing up in the small town of Castellammare di Stabia, just south of Naples on the Sorrento Coast, Di Maio, dreamed from a young age of the world beyond her province. In her small town, diversity and multicultural experiences were difficult to find.
Di Maio’s dreams began to take shape when she decided to study at JCU. Because of her passion for English, her high school teachers urged her to study at an American university. At the time when she applied, Di Maio was the second person from her hometown to attend JCU.
During her studies, she made it a point to engage with other cultures. Di Maio joined STAND Club and began volunteering with them. “At the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, I met people who had crossed the sea to Italy from Africa and were coping with integration and bureaucracy. We became friends,” she said.
Meanwhile in the classroom, topics regarding global politics and developing countries were her focus. In her class International Organizations taught by Professor Silvia Scarpa, Di Maio chose IOM for her final project. She said, “We had to pretend we were an international actor. I decided to represent IOM because I liked their constitution, their agenda, and their approach to humanitarian crises.”
She had no way of knowing that this class project would help her greatly in finding an internship after graduation. Today, she is 21 and holds a Bachelor degree in Communications and Political Science from JCU. Her search for a diverse and multicultural world, combined with her JCU education and experiences, ultimately led her to apply for an internship with IOM. “It was tough. I was interviewed by IOM in Italian, English, and Spanish. They asked me about the project, and it was probably the main reason they liked me.”
Di Maio works in Rome at the IOM’s Coordination Office for the Mediterranean. Her duties are to keep the staff up to date about migration, new policies regarding migration in Italy and abroad, and debates and crises. She also helps keep track of information about people who have arrived to Italy by sea. “It is office work, but it does not feel like office work at all,” she said.
Working with an organization like IOM during the Refugee Crisis has deeply impacted Di Maio. “I have had about five or six nightmares, since interning at IOM, about being trafficked,” she said. Prior to her internship, Di Maio was less aware of the human trafficking aspect of the Refugee Crisis. According to IOM estimates, potentially 80 percent of the 5,633 Nigerian women that arrived in Italy in 2015 were victims of trafficking.
Despite the nightmares, Di Maio has come to understand the bigger picture about migration through her job. “Here I am working towards a bigger cause, a collective move. You do not see immediate results…but you hope that your work along with other agencies’ will eventually have an impact,” she said.
Axel Keicher, Di Maio’s boyfriend, vouches for her commitment to the Refugee Crisis and the friends she has made along the way. “In her free time, Chiara helps her migrant friends get job interviews and puts them in contact with people who needs their skills,” said Keicher, 24, a JCU senior in Communications. “She is incredibly driven and tireless in helping these people who were forced to flee their countries because of war, terrorism, and famine.”
Di Maio is happy to be interning at this time. “If it is a new field you have never worked in, it is absolutely necessary to intern. It allows you to channel your enthusiasm and commitment without the harsh truth of having a real job,” she said. “You are kind of protected in that sense.” She supports herself entirely with her monthly intern salary.
As one of Di Maio’s thesis readers during her final semester at JCU in Spring 2015, Professor of Political Science Isabella Clough Marino is aware of Di Maio’s interests and thrilled she is working at IOM. “Migration is one of the most complicated topics of our time. It merges knowledge of politics, economics, and law with the need for sensitivity and empathy,” she said. “Chiara is highly skilled in all those fields and has a strong sense of justice that makes this absolutely the right sector for her to work in. I think she can make a real difference.”
Although Di Maio would happily take a job with IOM after her internship ends in April, she also has other passions she can see herself pursuing. “My love for English brought me to JCU. My interest in migration led to interning at IOM. Currently, I am obsessed with Latin American politics, society, and culture, so I wonder where this love will one day take me.”