Mahé Becker went through many ups and downs during her internship in the USA. She was plunged into a completely new world for five months, where her experiences were quite different from anything she had encountered before. 

San Francisco is a melting pot of many different cultures. Its small size forces people of all backgrounds to interact with one other, creating this unique blend of multiculturalism and a cross-cultural understanding. The Hispanic neighbourhood called The Mission, with its flavours, music, and murals, China Town, Japan Town, or the charismatic Italian North Beach, make it possible to dive into a different culture so profoundly that you forget that you are in the United States. This uniqueness intrigued me and was the reason why I chose to intern in “San Pancho”.

Open Door Legal, the non-profit organisation that offered me the opportunity to learn and grow personally, is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in San Francisco: Bayview Hunter’s Point. It is a predominantly black neighbourhood and is shaped largely by gang activities.

My first week was intimidating as I was thrown into a new culture where poverty looked so different from what I was used to. Honestly, I felt insecure, unsafe, and there were moments when I doubted my decision. The neighbourhood was full of thugs, drugs, homeless or crazy people and stench. Nonetheless, I knew there was no way around it and I had to see it through. My mission was to learn.

Open Door Legal provides legal services for its low-income community according to their mission statement: The Law Belongs To All Of Us. Because of the large Hispanic population in San Francisco, I was frequently required to do translations for the attorneys and their clients. It definitely challenged my Spanish knowledge due to all the legal terms that are used and because of all the different Spanish accents coming from all over South and Central America. I also felt challenged handling the emotional pressure. The meetings I attended were mostly about domestic violence and family law. The clients’ stories were often heart breaking. Many days I left the office with mixed feelings, I knew I was able to help express the client’s feelings and problems but I also knew that it was not enough to improve their lives. This experience showed and proved to me once more in which direction I want to go professionally. Giving people a voice is my motivation.

A short article in German on Mahé’s experiences appeared in the June edition of “Impact”. To find out how varied the fifth semester can be for students with a specialisation in Multilingual or Multimodal Communication, go to Internship or Semester abroad