Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

The International Institute of New England in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Northeastern University has designed a transformational service-learning curriculum equipping universities and colleges to become receiving communities for refugees and other immigrants seeking safety in the U.S. due to war, violence, and persecution. Students and university communities work alongside professional resettlement staff to gain firsthand experience in the complexities of the resettlement process by providing essential humanitarian assistance for newly arriving families and individuals forcibly displaced. 

In this Article:

  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

Human displacement is at crisis levels and is increasing each year worldwide. UNHCR reports that there are over 110 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. Refugee resettlement provides one durable solution to this global human rights emergency, and the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program is one of the largest resettlement programs in the world. This year, the United States has committed to resettling 125,000 refugees and tens of thousands of other immigrants from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba through an extension of humanitarian parole. This has led to unprecedented numbers of refugees and immigrants requiring resettlement services across the country and here in Boston.  

The International Institute of New England anticipates serving more than 20,000 refugees and immigrants in 2024. In response to the number of people seeking asylum, IINE has developed a co-sponsorship program, Resettle Together, forging vital collaborations with volunteers and donors who become receiving communities welcoming newcomers and helping them transition into their new homes and lives. 

This year, IINE expanded its Resettle Together programming to college students through university collaborations. University participation not only benefits our clients and agency staff but also provides a unique and invaluable learning opportunity for college students through hands-on service learning. Through our newly launched Resettle Together Higher Ed program, college professors and students apply theoretical course concepts to their practical experiences helping resettle refugees and reflect on these experiences in the classroom to gain a deep appreciation of the work involved in refugee resettlement and an understanding of the challenges newly arrived immigrants must overcome during the process of integration. 

The purpose of the Resettle Together Higher Ed program is to 1) increase IINE’s institutional capacity to provide more support and wrap-around services for refugees and immigrants; 2) increase the university community’s understanding of the practice of humanitarian work and its challenges through participation in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program as co-sponsors; and 3) increase community support of refugees and immigrants at the start of integration.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

IINE’s Resettle Together Higher Ed program offers a new, unique, and meaningful way for universities and colleges to pair academic theory related to the global refugee regime with humanitarian practice. By partnering with a local resettlement agency, universities can provide their students with an experiential learning experience that moves the study of forced migration from the classroom to their local neighborhood, and from an international focus to its domestic reality. The direct service supporting refugees and other immigrants affords students practical knowledge that they can reflect on in the context of courses addressing human rights, globalization, and international affairs among other related topics. Working with resettlement staff, students gain an opportunity to engage with the material they are studying through the transformative experience of participating in humanitarian work.

3. Key Actors and Participants

Key actors and participants include:

  • University students benefit by engaging in experiential learning as they apply international human rights history and theory to the practice of local refugee resettlement. Students gain a fuller understanding of what resettlement entails and are encouraged to apply critical thinking, reflection, and practical insights to an ongoing evaluation of program efficacy. 
  • Refugees and other immigrants benefit from interacting with students helping to provide core resettlement services including locating and setting up appropriate housing, accompanying staff to airport pickups, preparing warm meals and groceries, supporting cultural orientation, and providing ESOL support. Clients gain friendship, encouragement, and support from their student sponsors and mentors. 
  • Resettlement agencies and their staff benefit from additional service support from student sponsors and volunteers who assist with delivering core services to newly arrived clients. Case Specialists, Housing Coordinators, ESOL Instructors, and other resettlement staff also practice teaching and supervisory skills through their work mentoring participating students. 
  • Universities and college faculty and staff benefit by engaging in domestic resettlement practices, deepening theoretical understanding of the global refugee regime and how local communities welcome and integrate refugees.  
  • University stakeholders benefit from deepening ties to local immigrant communities and local NGOs offering impactful programs engaging students and staff in local humanitarian work with global impact.

5. Impact and Outcomes

  • Newly arrived families navigate resources more easily. They are supported by community welcome and engagement beyond refugee resettlement staff. 
  • University faculty and students move from theory to practice through hands-on experience supporting newly arrived families.  
  • Students considering a career path in humanitarian work gain first-hand aid experiences, a better understanding of the challenges displaced persons face, and a better understanding of the tools available to support families (housing, benefits, etc.) 
  • Resettlement staff increase their capacity to provide core services to clients.

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few initial steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Engage university service-learning program staff in identifying courses that would be enhanced by a service-learning component. 
  2. Collaborate with professor(s) in determining how a Resettle Together Higher Ed partnership will be integrated into the course curriculum. 
  3. Determine a timeline for training students and matching them with a newly arriving refugee/immigrant family as early as possible in the semester.  
  4. Create a team of 6-12 students and ask them to select a team leader and team name. Schedule a weekly time with the student Resettle Together Higher Ed team for training and check-ins. 
  5. Begin training, both live via Zoom or in-person, and asynchronous through the Refugee Welcome Collective online community sponsorship training

7. Challenges 

Some of the challenges faced are:

  • Fundraising: Community-based Resettle Together teams raise between $10,000 and $15,000 to support a refugee/immigrant family with the high costs of initial housing and utilities during the first few months of resettlement while family members are finding employment and learning English. IINE does not require student groups to meet these fundraising goals so the families they support do not receive the same financial benefits as those working with community groups. Recommendation: Explore university/institutional financial commitment to the resettlement program to provide more direct client support. 
  • Time: Students’ time is limited to the length of a semester (or quarter) and so it is necessary to abbreviate the typical group training period so paired student groups can focus support on family needs upon arrival. IINE prioritizes student group support with activities like school enrollment, helping clients navigate public transportation, helping families make connections in the community, etc.  Recommendation: Begin training as soon as possible in the semester and set a required number of hours per week that students must fulfill to make sure each student participates equally. 
  • Transportation: Students in the city often do not have access to cars, without which some activities are difficult to perform (such as airport pickup). Recommendation: It would be helpful to recruit at least one or two students with access to a car for each team to help transport students, clients, and goods when necessary.

8. Resources and Partnerships

To be successfully implemented this program requires the following:

  • Financial: Resources to support client housing requirements ($10,000).
  • Staff: IINE staff member to train and mentor sponsor group
  • Course Instructor: University staff member to organize the sponsor group (could be a T.A.)
  • Partners: Institutional support to help provide financial resources.

9. Looking to the Future

IINE seeks to deepen its relationships with local universities as we work to transform campus communities into communities of welcome. In doing so, refugees and immigrants will access networks of support, and university stakeholders gain practical experience enhancing teaching and research. 

Create long-lasting partnerships; universities contribute financial and other resources and investments. 

Expand and grow the Resettle Together Higher Ed program across university departments using an interdisciplinary approach.  

10. Contact Information

Name: Kate Waidler
Title: Community Sponsorship & Volunteer Coordinator
Organization: International Institute of New England

Name: Panagoula (Youly) Diamanti-Karanou
Title: Associate Teaching Professor & Faculty Advisor
Organization: International Affairs Program, Northeastern University

Name: Chioma Nnaji, MPH, MEd
Organization: School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, University of Massachusetts, Boston

State: MA

Additional information

Syllabus are available at request – please reach out to one of the contacts listed above.

College Students Learn Refugee Resettlement by Lending Helping Hands (iine.org)

Resettle Together – Huskies Supporting Families – Campaign (iine.org)

< Return to the resource hub

Have Additional Questions?

Want to know more? Please use our expert assistance form to get in touch with the Higher Ed Immigration Portal.

Contact Us