Reflecting on my Laidlaw Research Summer 1 experience

Come along as I reflect upon the transformative journey I embarked on, delving into the world of refugee integration and leadership self-development.
Reflecting on my Laidlaw Research Summer 1 experience
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Exploratory research into the support worker’s perceptions of the integration experiences of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland  

Supervisor: Dr. Rachel Hoare, Director of Centre for Migration Studies, Trinity College Dublin

Summer 1 Reflection

Embarking on my journey as a Laidlaw Scholar, I focused my exploration on the intricate process of integrating Ukrainian refugees in the wake of the still recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. My chosen methodology involved immersing myself in the narratives of those directly engaged in refugee support—conducting interviews with six devoted professionals offering a diverse array of perspectives on the integration journey.

However, my research journey didn't initially follow its intended path. My original plan was to directly interview Ukrainian refugees themselves, capturing their first hand stories. Drawing from my time as an intern where I worked directly with refugees, I felt assured of my ability to navigate interviews and gather a group of six participants for individual discussions as well as a focus group of six—an undertaking that seemed reasonably straightforward. Yet, reality threw a curveball. My supervisor, a mentor who ignited my passion for refugee-focused research, nudged me toward an alternative trajectory. Informed by her fieldwork knowledge, she noted the challenge of securing ethical approval for direct refugee interviews, particularly given my position as an undergraduate with no previous research experience. This unexpected twist prompted me to recalibrate my approach.

The initial wave of disappointment was palpable. It felt as though the very foundation of my project had crumbled, leaving me uncertain on how to rekindle my motivation while remaining true to the essence of the Laidlaw foundation’s goals. Thankfully, a pivotal moment during my engagement with refugee support workers within Trinity's English conversational classes for refugees and asylum seekers sparked a transformative insight. The wealth of collective experiences these professionals shared could be exactly the fresh perspective I needed. Following consultations with my supervisor and Trinity's Laidlaw coordinator, @Joel McKeever , I embarked on an unexpected yet invigorating shift in approach. While far from the streamlined experience I had envisioned, the decision to interview support workers instead of refugees was the best thing that could’ve happened. With ethical approval secured, a new phase of preparation commenced, not free of its own set of challenges.

As I navigated these challenges, the process of obtaining ethical approval proved more frustrating and time-consuming than my initial anticipations. Wrestling with this obstacle required a shift in mindset—acknowledging that, once all the necessary materials were submitted, the outcome lay beyond my immediate control, demanding a period of patient waiting. This intricate process, however, showcased the significance of establishing the right protocols for my interviews. Given the sensitive nature of the topics and the proximity of my interviewees to these issues, ensuring their comfort in sharing their experiences became a cornerstone. Equally important was ensuring their understanding of the context in which their information would be stored and employed.

This alignment resonated profoundly with the core values I had outlined in my Personal Development Plan (PDP), particularly my commitment to fairness and equality in all interactions, regardless of individuals' backgrounds. These values took on even greater prominence throughout the ethical approval process and guided my interactions during the interviews.

Navigating the landscape as a woman from Peru brought with it a unique challenge—the challenge of acknowledging the inherent limitations in fully comprehending Ukrainian people’s experiences. This hurdle made me aware of the importance of deep understanding of diverse cultures and approaching the task without any preconceived biases, allowing for an authentic grasp of their narratives.

Stepping into new territory was yet another challenge. Conducting interviews was something I had never done before, and suddenly, I found myself in direct conversations with inspiring individuals, sharing their remarkable journeys. At this moment, a meeting with a former scholar proved to be an invaluable turning point. She reminded me that my role as a researcher commanded respect and that my youth could be viewed as a strength, rather than a weakness which was an insecurity and fear of mine. To track my progress and personal growth, I commenced a practice of recording reflective journal entries after each interview. These reflections not only served as markers of how far I had come but also solidified my genuine appreciation for these enriching conversations—a practice that resonated with my PDP goal of improving my reflective skills.

Undoubtedly, this journey demanded adaptability. Confronting time management challenges and occasionally encountering deadlines. Engaging in conversations with fellow scholars through Action Learning Sets (ALS) I made note of the diverse stages of their research, reminding me that each scholar's journey unfolds at its own pace.

The interviews themselves gave me incredible insight, significantly enriching my understanding. Hearing directly from support workers, rather than relying solely on written sources, added a dynamic layer to my grasp of how Ukrainian refugees navigate their integration into Ireland. Many of these support workers painted a picture of Ireland's refugee support system as exceptional, well-organised, and characterised by a genuine sense of empathy—an uplifting revelation. However, as our discussions ventured deeper into specific integration aspects like healthcare, accommodation, and employment, specific challenges began to take centre stage. While Ireland's commitment to strong integration structures was evident, certain areas called for improvement. This reality gained even greater spotlight as I learned about the tangible impact on people's lives. In my upcoming results, I aspire to highlight the efforts of these support workers, who find their work both demanding and profoundly rewarding.

Interestingly, summing up this initial summer experience in just two words, I would choose "challenging" and "rewarding." Valuable insights came from the conversations I had, both during the interviews themselves and in the moments of reflection afterward. This covered every step, from the careful preparations leading to the interviews, to the subsequent analysis of the gathered data.

This experience taught me a lot about myself. As a researcher, I found that I really enjoy having meaningful conversations and gathering firsthand information. What surprised me was how much I also enjoyed the analytical aspects of the process, which is different from my usual preference for more action-oriented approaches. I also developed a strong sense of the importance of ethical considerations, both in my interactions and in the stories people shared with me. This commitment to treating everyone fairly, no matter their background, became even clearer when I went through the ethical approval process and stayed with me during all of my interviews.

As a leader, I discovered an ability to handle unexpected challenges and turn them into chances for growth, instead of getting stuck in fear or inaction. While there were certainly frustrating moments, I kept in mind that there were important lessons within those challenges. In the process, I also gained more confidence in myself. While working with the support workers, I noticed that I wasn't just asking questions, but I was also making meaningful contributions to the meaningful discussions that followed. Despite my initial hesitations, I gradually became more engaged and involved.

This research experience has significantly influenced my future ambitions. It has strengthened my dream to pursue a career in refugee support and has surprisingly sparked a newfound interest in academic research. The insights I gained have shown me the importance of delving deeper into this subject, motivating me to participate in upcoming research on refugee integration.

My research has revealed multiple areas that could be improved, bringing about positive changes that could greatly impact people's lives, particularly during uncertain and challenging times. There are numerous avenues for further exploration, such as comparing integration approaches between different countries and understanding the diverse experiences of refugees from various backgrounds, races and ethnicities. This research holds immense potential, and I'm enthusiastic about contributing to academic advancements in this field.

I'm deeply grateful to the @Laidlaw Foundation , both at @Trinity College Dublin and beyond, for the transformative experience. The financial support, networking opportunities, and inspiration have contributed to my personal growth and character development. This journey has reinforced my commitment to making a positive difference and has connected me with a community of individuals who share similar aspirations for a better world. I'm also indebted to my supervisor, whose unwavering guidance empowered me to authentically lead my investigation. Her resources, ethical guidance, and continuous support have played a pivotal role in shaping my journey.

More research updates: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimenaalvarezx/

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