Fulbright award helps alumna continue work with refugees
As news broke about the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan, Chantal Skubic reflected on her experience working with Afghans resettling in Virginia.
Skubic, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in marketing management from the Pamplin College of Business, served as an employment specialist with a refugee resettlement agency based in Arlington, Virginia. She was recently awarded a U.S. Fulbright Student grant to study for a master’s degree in refugee integration at Dublin City University in Ireland.
Most of Skubic’s former clients were special immigrant visa holders from Afghanistan — interpreters, translators, military escorts, and USAID project workers. “There’s quite a variety of experiences, and they’re often put in danger through their work supporting American efforts,” Skubic said. “Upon arrival in the U.S., we helped with securing housing, education, and employment.”
After being evacuated, many Afghans were flown to military bases before being relocated to their final destinations. Skubic had the opportunity to assist at an initial arrival site. “It was heartening to see different organizations and people working together. The new arrivals were just so exhausted, and a lot of them come with little kids. Many appeared overwhelmed but grateful to be safe. It’s a huge range of emotions,” she said.
Skubic admits that working with refugees and asylum-seekers comes with a certain perception. “People think that it’s always heavy and serious work. And it definitely can be heavy,” she said. “When people first arrive in the U.S., they’re under so much stress. But you also get to see the joy-filled moments when they reach different goals and become part of the community. You get to know the clients you work with, and sometimes you even get to see them reunite with their families after waiting many years. It’s very special.”
During her college years in Blacksburg, Skubic volunteered with the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement and the local YMCA teaching English language skills to children. “I had studied abroad in Malawi during my sophomore year, and it was a pivotal point in my school experience. When I returned, I wanted to get more involved with international communities,” she said.
Her Fulbright project will focus on the various models surrounding refugee resettlement in Ireland, particularly how major employers interact with nongovernmental organizations that assist asylum-seekers and refugees.
“I had visited Dublin in 2019. I loved the city and imagined myself living here. I wanted to go back to school and wanted to do Fulbright, so it all kind of came together,” Skubic said.
The Irish capital is an appealing study site because of the presence of major corporations such as Google, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and Accenture. Skubic will examine how approaches to resettlement differ in Europe compared with the U.S. and how companies can integrate programs for refugees into their corporate social responsibility efforts.
Since 1969, Virginia Tech has produced 66 Fulbright grantees. The flagship program offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs seeks to increase mutual understanding and cultural exchanges between the United States and other countries.
“Apart from generous funding support, Fulbright offers unique opportunities to get hands-on experience on the ground in more than 160 countries. It provides Virginia Tech students, alumni, faculty, and staff the ability to develop relationships across borders,” said Marielle Wijnands, assistant director for student services in the Global Education Office.
The Global Education Office, part of Outreach and International Affairs, oversees the Fulbright program at Virginia Tech and serves as the central resource for student applicants. Several Fulbright resources including application tips can be found on the Global Education Office website. “Fulbright is competitive, so we would encourage students to reach out early to discuss the various programs available and the application process involved,” Wijnands said.
Students or alumni interested in applying can contact Wijnands or Christina McIntyre, director of professional development and national and international scholarships in the Honors College.
“For people considering the Fulbright, I’d say don’t worry about the statistics. I remember feeling a bit defeated after reading that Ireland had one of the lowest acceptance rates for Fulbright,” Skubic said. “Do what you feel drawn to. There are a lot of people who think they might not fit the mold or don’t think something’s within grasp. Just apply and seek out help from friends, family, and advisors in the Global Education Office. You never know what it can lead to.”
Written by Rommelyn Conde Coffren and Aryn Lovell, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering