Where Passion Meets Purpose and Profession

When I declared social work to be my major in my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to work with immigrants and refugees because I thought I would relate to their experiences as an immigrant Black woman. Being the first international student from Burundi (which is located in East Africa) at Luther, I have had to adjust and adapt to a new culture. It has taught me resilience and brought strength to my character and personality.

In the past four years, my coursework has centered around women of color, immigrants, and refugees. With all of my classes, I intentionally choose assignments and research paper topics that focus on the lives of the global majority and the systemic issues we face. For the social work senior internship, I knew I wanted to work with communities of color, particularly immigrants and refugees in the Midwest.

In March of last year, before the total shut down due to the global pandemic, I found a non-profit in Rochester, Minnesota—Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association (IMAA)—that works with refugees and immigrants. I knew deep in my heart that the agency would be a perfect fit for the senior field placement. However, due to COVID-19 and most people working remotely, it seemed impossible to secure the internship since there were a lot of unknowns and challenges when navigating the “new normal.” In addition to that, I was the first social work student to do their field placement in Rochester which created an additional level of challenge. Thankfully in the end, I was able to land my dream internship.

Fast forward to a year later, I am now the Victim Services Intern at IMAA. A month into the internship, I still get butterflies on my way to work because I know I am doing what I was meant to do. Some of my work involves conducting client intakes for legal clinics where our clients meet one-on-one, virtually with an attorney from Legal Assistance of Olmsted County and have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss legal options. In addition, IMAA helps refugees and immigrants who have been victimized in some way, such as domestic violence and human trafficking.

Although IMAA staff are working remotely and practicing social distancing, I am learning a lot. I especially enjoy how our virtual staff meetings feel like UN conferences with people with different cultures and accents from all over the world.

Living in Rochester has been a blessing. I remember the first time I went grocery shopping and I felt like I belonged. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked like me and for a second, I wanted to hug everyone in the store. Outside of work, I get to live with other Luther students who are part of the Rochester Semester program, and together we foster a community away from the Luther campus. It’s my second home away from home.

I am thankful for Luther College Social Work Department and Center for Global Learning who made it possible for my internship to happen. I appreciate that my passion creates a purpose for me, and that will turn into a fulfilling profession.


Peilla Ishimwe '21
Peilla receives her first COVID vaccination at IMAA.