A Memorable Internship with the American Red Cross

Shelter Fundamentals class
Shelter Fundamentals Class with Terry Lawrenson, Regional Sheltering Lead American Red Cross

Ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer for the American Red Cross, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world? Our contributor, Rieski, volunteered with the Red Cross during her time studying at Houston Community College. Read on to find out more!

It was hard to believe that my beautiful ten months in the USA have flown by so quickly. Through the Community College Initiative (CCI) program scholarship funded by the U.S. Department of State, I had a chance to study for two semesters at Houston Community College (HCC), Texas.

During the CCI program, I along with fifteen other participants from various countries had to take an internship based on our field of study. For participants studying Business Management at HCC like me, they must fulfill 320 internship hours. So, during the Spring Semester, I interned 20 hours per week.

Since early January 2019, I officially took an internship at the American Red Cross of the Texas Gulf Coast Region. I chose the Red Cross because I am interested in learning more about nonprofit management. During my time with the Red Cross, I worked at the Volunteer Service Department and also the Communication Department.

The tasks that I did there are implementing volunteer recruitment strategies such as participating in events, communicating with prospective volunteers, and attending various training. While working at Red Cross, my supervisor and I would discuss what strategies are interesting for us to try. For example, when the Red Cross needed transportation volunteers, we tried other methods of recruiting. Not only by distributing posters on blood donor activities, but also designing chocolate packages containing information on how to join volunteers for blood donors.

There are a lot of lessons learned during my internship days at American Red Cross. Some of the unforgettable experiences include:

CPR training
Facilitating CPR training material

First, joining as a volunteer at Red Cross means getting a chance to get a lot of training to improve my skills. The training provided is either online or through face-to-face meetings. I once attended a Hands-only Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) session where I was taught how to give first aid to people who suddenly collapse and experience abnormal breathing. Then there was a Shelter Fundamentals Class which taught me about the principle of running a shelter in natural disaster response situations, and of course, all of these training sessions are free of charge.

Second, one day, I felt like my English skills were tested. I was suddenly asked to volunteer to replace a receptionist for several hours. The task was not just to welcome guests, but I also had to be able to answer the phone. Although I had lived in the US for several months, I still often lack the confidence to talk on the phone. I always remember the first caller spoke to me so fast and with a strong accent, and he was in a bad mood. Sometimes I also asked the callers to spell their name or email address over and over again until I was sure I was not making a mistake.

Third, one of the best experiences I got was speaking in front of a group of professional speakers. I was asked to introduce an event held by the Red Cross and to invite the group members to volunteer with us. Although my ability to speak English in public still needs a lot of improvement because I still stammer frequently, the audience in that event appreciated my presentation.

Red Cross at a job fair
I presented the Red Cross with another volunteer at a job fair. She is a teacher who loves volunteering in her spare time.

Overall, I gained a lot of valuable experience from my internship in the United States. I was amazed by their work ethic, ranging from their discipline habit, respect culture, and diversity. Every time they conducted a meeting, it was not only the staff who had the chance to speak, but volunteers who presented were also free to express their opinions. They also appreciate any smallest contribution given. My supervisors often complimented me by saying, “Kiki, you are doing a great job!” every time I completed small tasks.

Rieski and Red Cross volunteer manager
With Kimberly Patel, Volunteer Recruitment Manager

I felt like the 320 hours I spent by serving Houston residents with the American Red Cross was so short because I enjoyed every process I have been through. It also taught me about time management like arranging schedules between school and internship, catching a Metro bus every morning, and walking far enough to carry a grocery shopping bag after returning from an internship or class. This story is only a small piece of fun and struggling life in the United States. What I got from this experience is, academically I completed the credit for my class, but mentally, this valuable moment will linger with me forever.


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