Students Share Freeman Asia Internship Experiences
Oct. 30, 2018
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Learning through immersive, hands-on internships at 16 sites in
four countries across Asia, a record 36 IWU Freeman Asia interns shared their life-changing experiences during an October poster presentation.
The students, whose internship and travel expenses were fully funded by a Freeman Foundation grant, interned across Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand. Internships
ranged from teaching English to Japanese students, to conducting research on food
and nutrition, to helping migrant workers fight for equal rights.
Michael Modaff ’19 (Lincoln, Ill.) and Min Hyuk Kim ’20 (Seoul, South Korea) said
they enjoyed impacting the lives of students at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo,
Japan. As interns at the University, Kim and Modaff’s primary responsibility included
helping Japanese students enhance their English skills by leading discussion group
“I felt that one of my greatest accomplishments was making the connections with these
individual students,” said Modaff, a computer science major and Japanese minor. “It
was great to envelop myself within the community and become a part of it and help
facilitate their goals.”
Still maintaining regular contact with some of the students, Modaff said the connections
he made are “very real.” He said, “They don’t just go away when the internship ends.”
In addition to connecting with students, Modaff became accustomed to Japan, including
its complex transportation system.
“I’m very proud of my geographical progress,” he said.
Kim also made geographical progress. Although he is originally from Korea, Kim had
never travelled to nearby Japan. He said this opportunity allowed him “to explore
more and let (himself) out there, and see what (he could) do to really serve others
using (his) talent and skill.”
From exploring Tokyo’s busy city, to experiencing Japan’s famous “Hot Springs,” Kim
also completed his first-ever hike, an eight-hour journey 12,000 feet up Mount Fuji.
Completing the hike independently, Kim was able to climb out of his comfort zone.
“After that I felt like I conquered Japan—I did this,” said Kim, an accounting major.
Nitsueh Kebere ’19 (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) said her internship at the Food and Nutrition
Research Institute (FNRI) in Taguig, Philippines also pushed her to grow personally
and professionally. As an intern at the Knowledge and Diffusion Sector at FNRI, Kebere
— a biology major and math minor — was responsible for translating scientific research
papers from the nutrigenomics and biochemistry lab into layman’s terms. Kebere said
it was her job to help ordinary people understand research regarding their health
“It’s important research that’s been done, and people need to know this research for
their health benefits,” Kebere said.
While the internship strengthened her abilities as a writer and scientist, Kebere
said her experiences outside of the classroom also encouraged her passive-self to
“step up and act fast.”
“I learned if I didn’t ask, I couldn’t get answers and learn about the culture and
the people around me. I learned to ask questions, be confident and try to make friends.
Those are important life lessons I feel like I’ve gained from this experience,” she
Fellow FNRI intern Jon Recchia ’20 (Chicago), who first studied abroad with the IWU
London program in 2017, said his Freeman Asia internship in the Philippines was a
very different, yet similarly rewarding experience.
An English-writing major, Recchia was able to strengthen his writing skills by composing
infographics for the various studies conducted at FNRI. He also created a personal
travel blog and videos, capturing the highlights of his experiences, as he travelled
throughout the Philippines. He said these travel opportunities opened his eyes to
the problems in developing countries and made him realize how fortunate he is for
earning an education because for “so many people in the Philippines and so many people
in the world, it’s only a dream for them.”
“To go from London to a developing country, to provinces where there’s a level of
poor that is just nonexistent in the U.S., was an eye-opening moment and a humbling
experience for me,” Recchia said. “London was the best three months of my life. The
Philippines was probably the most important experience of my life.”
As interns for Mission for Migrant Workers, Phillip Duda ’19 (Barrington, Ill.) and
Sydney Rowley ’20 (Schaumburg, Ill.) were also exposed to the problems people face
in Hong Kong. A registered charitable organization, Mission for Migrant Workers is
dedicated to providing services for the more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers
in Hong Kong whose labor rights are frequently violated.
Duda and Rowley were responsible for helping this part of Hong Kong’s population who
are mistreated, overworked and underpaid. They not only gave advice to people who
were experiencing problems with their employers, they also accompanied them to hearings,
wrote letters to the immigration or labor department on their behalf and provided
them with the help needed to win their cases.
“I really came to know their stories, and it was really rewarding to talk to people
and make a difference in their lives,” said Rowley, a psychology major who focused
on how migrant workers’ jobs affect their mental health.
“It’s really great to be able to be a part of their lives in some way,” said Duda,
who continues to talk with clients through Whatsapp.
A political science major, Duda was able to familiarize himself with the laws of Hong
Kong that dictate the lives of migrant workers, including their ability to legally
live and work in Hong Kong. From meeting with many migrant workers, specifically Indonesian
and Filipino groups, Duda was exposed to the problems they faced with organizing and
communicating their message across to the government.
“I think the stance of the Mission for Migrant Workers is really that research is
the way to make it clear to the Hong Kong government that these are the problems,”
Duda said. “They’re real, they’re human rights violations, and if you are not going
to do anything about it, you are an accessory to human rights violation.”
While in Hong Kong, Duda and Rowley helped create real solutions to these real problems.
“I’d go back in a heartbeat,” Duda said.
Through their internship with the Mekong Migration Network in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
Amber Gauthier ’20 (Westmont, Ill.) and Haila Hassan ’19 (Chicago) also focused on
human rights and social justice issues concerning migrant workers in the Mekong region.
Hassan, a psychology major, worked on a summer-long project collecting research on
the policies, laws and working conditions within Laos and the reasons people migrate
for labor. Hassan presented her findings to project partners at a general conference
at the end of the summer and collaborated with a professor from the Asian Institute
of Technology, who used some of her findings to help direct the next phase of the
project after she completed her internship.
Hassan said the internship further sparked her interest in the field of social justice,
human rights and advocacy for migrants, and “brought new perspectives in what is going
on around the world and how it parallels and contrasts with what’s going on here in
Gauthier said her internship also heightened her interest in international issues.
A psychology and international economics double major, Gauthier’s main responsibilities
included analyzing research in social economic zones in the Mekong Region, and then,
comparing demographics for workers inside and outside these zones. From her work in
data analytics, Gauthier found that she “really likes working with numbers in an international
“It sparked my interest for international studies and how countries operate, which
is why I added an international concentration to my economics major,” she said.
Not only has Gauthier’s internship in Thailand helped her choose a potential career
path after graduation, she said the internship is very “marketable and could serve
as a gateway to other internships.”
Hassan agreed, adding that work experiences abroad are attractive to potential employers.
“You get to be abroad in Asia, which is very unique. You also have the chance to work
abroad and really absorb the culture in a working environment,” Hassan said. “I thought
it was an awesome opportunity to gain professional, cross-cultural experience.”
In addition to growing professionally, Gauthier and Hassan also had the opportunity
to explore the rich culture of Thailand. From participating in cooking classes to
visiting Thailand’s temples and white water rafting, the interns also learned about
the culture surrounding elephants – Gauthier’s favorite animal – in Thailand.
“It was very eye-opening, because you see elephants in the zoo, but there’s actually
so many issues surrounding these creatures,” Gauthier said.
From these many experiences, Gauthier concluded that she loves “studying abroad, and
I think it’s an experience that every IWU student should try to make possible during
their time here.”
The $400,000 grant received last year from the Freeman Foundation will provide full funding for students
to intern in Asia again during the summer of 2019. Funding supports airfare, housing,
a living allowance, and all internship placement and visa costs.
Application for the Summer 2019 IWU Freeman Asia Internship Program will be open to all domestic and international students who are currently sophomores
and juniors and who will return to the IWU campus for at least a semester following
the internship. Destinations include Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand.
Informational sessions will be held Tuesday, Nov. 13 and Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 4
p.m. until 5:30 p.m. in the Welcome Center Auditorium. The deadline to apply is Jan.