My Experience as an Intern at ICRD
By Jacob Kohn
Not many summer interns are able to work for such an intriguing and inspirational organization as the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. As a first-year student looking to be productive in the summer of 2009, initially I thought that editing footnotes would be my only responsibility and would not be challenging enough. Yet the experience paid off not only in the progress I made over the course of two months, but also in the knowledge I gained and the opportunities that opened up as I met key thinkers and policymakers at conferences and lectures. Driving home one day listening to NPR, I was surprised when I heard one of the authors whose book I had just footnoted earlier that day being interviewed. Through my internship, I was also able to visit such exclusive institutions as the Library of Congress and the State Department. This month, CNN aired a documentary that supported ICRD’s concepts of encouraging religious leaders to adopt more positive and open-minded methods of teaching their students. In agreement with ICRD’s aspirations, the documentary emphasized the importance of providing a well-balanced education for Muslim youth in Afghanistan and Pakistan to keep them from being seduced by radical, violent groups there.
The work that ICRD does is extremely relevant to today’s international issues, especially as they apply to United States interests in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area where the battle for hearts and minds must be won not by military means, but through earning the respect and trust of the people there. ICRD’s mantra is that religion, because it is part of the problem in so many parts of the world when used as an excuse for evil, logically must be a part of the solution. This philosophy is what guides Dr. Douglas Johnston, ICRD’s President and founder, whose upcoming book I helped edit. During my internship at ICRD, I researched ways to build a curriculum for a project encouraging madrasa reform by using past efforts as models. I was also offered the chance to practice my public speaking skills at the Global Youth Leadership Conference Global Village Seminars, a group of seminars designed to give high-school students from around the world a better understanding of international-oriented groups and institutions. Initially I wasn’t sure that I knew enough about ICRD—I’d been on the job for less than two months, far less than even the newest staff member. Following my presentation to the students, though, I discovered that I really had learned a lot and enjoyed the experience of discussing global issues with the extremely intelligent youth of the future.
In addition to learning more about how NGOs work—ICRD in particular—I gained a broader perspective on global issues through my internship. After taking several classes at the University of Virginia pertaining to the history and politics of the Middle East in the spring of 2009, I started out the summer eager to put my newly acquired knowledge to good use. Due to ICRD’s current focus on issues in Pakistan, however, I was encouraged to expand my understanding of another area of the world, South Asia. Through interactions with staff members and my own research for ICRD, I learned more about Pakistani culture and even picked up some Urdu, one of the official languages of Pakistan.
Overall, my experience interning at this organization was invaluable both because I feel I helped further ICRD’s goals and grew as a person. I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in learning how politics, religion, and globalization intersect and hope my own small effort has helped encourage this dynamic to channel itself into a more positive force in today’s society.