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  • Writer's pictureINSMS International Network for Students of Migration Studies

Project Officer on the Syria Emergency Response Task at Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

We had the privilege of exchanging ideas with the very motivated and energetic Tala Lakiss this week. She studied at the University of Pennsylvania and holds an MS in Education, Culture and Society with a focus on refugee education. We explored the work experience she gained through her four internships and what she means by not every field you have passion for will be the one you end up in.

Tala is twenty-two years old and from Lebanon. She received a Fulbright scholarship for her interdisciplinary Master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. By the time of her graduation, she had already completed over four internships, each lasting between 6 months and 1.5 years. Although all of her internships were in completely different fields, they had one thing in common: they were all in fields she loved! For Tala, internships are very important: not just to find a job after graduation, but to find the field that you are absolutely in love with and that motivates you to perform as the best version of yourself every day. So for Tala, the real challenge is to primarily find value, not a job per se.

Tala specified that "internships help you find out what you like to do and what you don't like to do, so that at least you can focus on the area that you are passionate about. Internships also help you make contacts, gain experience, get letters of recommendation, and maybe even get a job at the place where you interned".

Eternal uncertainty

Even though Tala is very passionate about finding a vocation that suits her perfectly, the difficulties of actually finding employment are not to be ignored. That's why when Tala returned to Lebanon after completing her master's degree, she took a month to adjust to the challenges of life and job hunting. She applied to more than fifty jobs during that time. However, she received a response from only 15. "It can be very frustrating to wait for something that you may never hear back from," Tala says. For her, this is the hardest part of applying: "You don't even get rejections, which leaves you in uncertainty for a very long time!"

Study, study, study

To overcome these difficulties, Tala kept herself busy. She studied for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which didn't leave her much time to think about her rejections. When she wasn't studying for the GRE exam, she was taking online courses she'd always wanted to take. She also finally caught up on some of her book on her lists, because according to Tala, it's essential not to get lost in the job search!

Coordinating the many interviews

Being a very motivated and hard-working person, Tala then found a job relatively quickly, despite the numerous rejections and the lack of answers: "It only took me a month, and in that month I had about 5 interviews and 7 written tests, for which I prepared intensively", explained Tala. During this time, Tala's biggest challenge was juggling and coordinating her tasks between the numerous interviews and written tests.

What is very often forgotten is that it is a privilege to look for a job in your home country. Tala highlights that she did not need a work visa because she was seeking a job in Lebanon. Most likely, however, she would have had far greater difficulty finding a job abroad.

But even in her home country, of course, the job search is not all plain sailing. Tala admits that the most difficult part of the job search for her was the emotional aspect. Especially the self-doubt, the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, and the severe imposter syndrome.

Now, however, Tala has found a job: She works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as an emergency relief project officer in Syria and Lebanon. CRS's mission is to support impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas and to promote holistic human development by seeking the well-being of every person and the whole person. CRS helps more than 100 million needy people in nearly 100 countries, based solely on need and without regard to religion, race, or nationality.

A normal working day in Tala’s life

Tala explained to us how a normal working day looks like in her life:

"I support the coordination and implementation of all project activities according to the detailed implementation plan, monitor and report any identified challenges and gaps to adjust plans and implementation schedules". Tala also coordinates project evaluation activities and supports partners in their efforts to collect and analyze project data according to established mechanisms and tools. She supports partners in their efforts to reflect on project experiences, collect information on human resource capacity and technical assistance needs of partner organizations, and monitor capacity building and technical assistance activities to ensure effective impact.

In addition to providing support and assistance to partners, Tala is responsible for completing project documentation for assigned activities, assisting in identifying information for case studies and promising practices reports, and working with the local partners in preparing reports according to the established reporting schedule.

She also manages and monitors financial resources through planning and monitoring to ensure efficient use of project resources, and manages project documentation including preparation of agreements, contract amendments, and project closeout letters.

When asked if Tala enjoys her current job, she responded very passionately, "I absolutely love my job." She said that she had always actually thought that she would go straight into the research field, as research is her greatest passion. However, when she was offered a position in project design, she knew that field experience was exactly what she needed to complement her research skills.

As energizing and motivating as the conversation with Tala began, it ended on an even more vivid and inspiring note, as Tala's final tip for students in their job search is, "Let your passion be your compass when choosing your work!"

*INSMS is always looking for interesting career paths of former migration students. If you would like to share your professional history with the network, please contact us by email:, Subject: P2P campaign

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