Woman in black shirt standing on a beach, with the ocean horizon behind her. Her arms are crossed and she is wearing glasses.

Erin Hitomi, a senior studying Public Health and Global Health at the University of Washington, shared her views on her experience as our 2018 Listening Session Intern.

Interested in applying? We’re hiring for a 2019 Listening Session Intern! Application deadline is May 24, 2019.

Why did you decide to apply for the Listening Session internship? How did it fit in with your academic or professional goals?

I applied for the internship because I had no experience with listening sessions or community organization/outreach, but I knew it was something that interested me. As a Public Health and Global Health Major at the University of Washington, community engagement is constantly discussed in my classes. We learn that research is not just quantitative, but qualitative, such as learning from people’s experiences with different institutions in the U.S. I enjoy engaging with people, learning from their perspective what issues they face day-to-day, in hopes to get a better understanding of how I can apply what I’ve learned through my classes. An area of study that has interested me is the intersection of race and health, as there are clear health disparities among different racial groups within the U.S., and this internship had a strong focus on racial and social injustices. I felt the internship would allow me to apply the skills I have learned at the UW into new experiences!

Please provide a brief description of your tasks as a LS intern. What was a “typical” day like in the office?

As an intern, I felt like I was able to experience a variety of tasks. Some days I would spend my time planning listening sessions, figuring out all the logistical tasks that need to be done to have a successful session. This would include finding other organizations in each area, contacting them to build partnerships for our listening sessions, and finalizing all the plans made with these organizations. Omar (Poverty Action’s Community Organizer) and the rest of the team would also allow me to sit in on meetings, giving me the opportunity to see all the different work Poverty Action does and how it gets accomplished. The team also set up workshops for other interns and I to learn skills around community organizing, which I found very valuable. At the listening sessions I would prepare the room, pick up any food we ordered, and lay out all the materials. During the session, I would take notes on the discussion for later use. No day was the exact same, which I really enjoyed!

What was one of your most memorable experiences from this internship?

My most memorable experience was getting the opportunity to go to Yakima with Omar for the Listening Session. I had never been to Yakima before, so I was excited to help out. It was the most memorable because the entire session was in Spanish. I had taken classes in high school, but had not practiced since then. Surprisingly, I understood enough to get a sense of what the conversation was about. I really appreciated this session because it showed me the importance of understanding how to engage with the community in a meaningful way. I feel like this is often forgotten, as English is the predominant language in the U.S. But it made me realize that the community can be uplifted by even just being able to share their voice in their native language. 

What was something you learned from this internship?

I learned how important community partnership and building trust in the community is. Trying to plan events in areas with little partnerships was challenging, but it highlighted how necessary it was to start these partnerships now. Trust is something that I often forget about due to the privileged position I currently live in as a student. Mistrust can be a barrier when working with those from lower income communities or communities of color, which is very understandable when looking at the history of injustice they have faced. Seeing how the team at Poverty Action worked with these communities, it really highlighted the need for trust when sharing these vulnerable stories. Even in my last quarter at the UW, I continue to look back at my time as a Listening Session as an example for the topics on ethics and justice in my classes.

What are you doing now and what are your future academic or professional goals (for the foreseeable future)?

With graduation approaching, I am currently applying for jobs in the Seattle area. I hope I am able to stay in the Pacific Northwest for a little bit before my next journey to who knows where! I do plan on pursuing a masters in either public health or health policy, but I want to gain some work experience and insight to help me make this decision.