Samantha Chu ’11, Immigration Analyst at U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Please give a brief background on yourself and your career.
I am currently an Immigration Analyst with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Refugee, Asylum and International Operations directorate. I work in the San Francisco office, where I provide critical operations and administrative support for one of the eight federal offices that determines whether or not to grant political asylum to applicants seeking protection in the United States.

I grew up moving from place to place – from the East Coast to the West Coast, to overseas to Wellesley. After being on the move so much, I’ve developed a keen desire to always pursue the next adventure. After graduating from Wellesley in 2011 with majors in economics and English literature, I served in the Peace Corps for two years in Azerbaijan, and worked for a very brief stint in the non-profit sector, before landing my current position with the Department of Homeland Security. If someone told me five years ago at commencement that I would be right in the mix of refugee and asylum issues during a worldwide immigration crisis, I would never have believed them!

How has your career changed since you originally envisioned it at Wellesley? What other careers did you consider as a student?
At Wellesley, I envisioned myself in a career involving international affairs and journalism. What better way to have globe-trotting adventures? I geared my coursework toward honing my writing and analytical skills, culminating in one of my favorite courses, Economic Journalism, taught by Professor David Lindauer, during senior year (in 2011). Right after graduation, I wrangled a summer internship with the World Policy Journal (whose managing editor is a fantastic Wellesley alumna) in New York City.

Though I enjoyed the internship immensely, I began to wonder if I was cut out for the job – somehow, it didn’t fit. I wanted to be out there, setting wheels into motion, rather than writing about it from afar. During the beginning of junior year, I had put in an application for the Peace Corps, which had been a lifelong dream of mine, and received an invitation to begin my service in Azerbaijan starting in the fall of 2011.

I served in Azerbaijan from 2011 to 2013, and came back from the Peace Corps with the powerful sense I wanted to be in the thick of initiating action. Since then, I have been privileged to work at a non-profit focusing on minority issues in the media and with the federal government in refugee and asylum affairs.

How has Wellesley contributed to your career?
It takes a lot of willpower to suppress bringing up Wellesley at every turn in conversation – all of my acquaintances could probably tell you how tired they are of hearing about my pride for my alma mater.

My time at Wellesley was indispensable in shaping my work ethic and self-confidence. After being surrounded by such inspiring peers, I have high standards for myself when it comes to work product and personal progress.

I also cannot say enough about our close-knit network. Wellesley alumnae were literally the first friends to greeted me when I came home from the Peace Corps. Wellesley siblings are my first points of contact in new cities, and I have had more informational interviews through the Wellesley network than I can count. I had lunch in Baku, Azerbaijan with a Wellesley alumna who was working out of eastern Turkey – and that’s only one example of a multitude of post-graduation Wellesley connections. As Professor Lindauer once said to me, “Wellesley is a lifetime membership.”

What is a typical work day or work week like for you?
With record-breaking numbers of asylum case receipts these past two years, there is no typical work day. I may be conducting security and background checks on an asylum case, managing a caseload of up to 70 applicants at a time to make sure they are scheduled, ready for interview, and oriented to the process, or explaining a case decision directly to an asylum applicant through an interpreter. Sometimes I’m working in my home office in San Francisco – sometimes I’m working in an immigration detention center in southern Texas. While I haven’t yet been on an international detail, many of my colleagues are being sent in refugee processing teams to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

What piece of advice would you offer students looking to get into your area of interest and expertise?
For students interested in advocacy or a cause, such as immigration or civil rights – roll up your sleeves and volunteer! Through volunteering, you will gain insight and professional contacts in your chosen field. Volunteer work also gives you an ample supply of stories and leadership experience to draw on for job applications and interviews.

For students interested in gaining a foothold in the federal government, I recommend considering serving in programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or Teach For America. Not only are these learning and professional experiences in themselves, but they come with preferential benefits when it comes to applying for federal jobs. I would also advise applying to programs such as the Boren AwardsCritical Language Scholarship Program, and other federal internship pathways. Many of these are mutually beneficial for students and the government, and give you a critical leg up in obtaining an internationally-focused federal position.

What do you wish you had known as a student?
I wish I had taken to heart that everyone has a different dream and a different path. All the time at Wellesley, I would worry that I wasn’t “on track.” I looked around and saw people who had gotten their dream internship or job placement, and that I was, in comparison, standing still.

Such comparisons are fruitless. Everyone has different aspirations, and different ways of getting there. As I gain more experience in the working world, I strive to ask myself instead, do I feel fulfilled and challenged in my current situation? If not, what can I do to move forward, at my own pace and in line with my own values?

If you could come back and take one class at Wellesley what would it be?
Hands down, it would be a more advanced computer science course. I took CS110 and was blown away by how fascinating the field was, but I didn’t have time or space to take more courses in that department. In this day and age, technology has had an unbelievable impact on every industry and company – any bit of tech knowledge can give you an extra edge professionally.