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Gaining Work Experience Abroad While Making an Impact

November 08, 2021
by Andrea Arias

Hello everyone! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Andrea Arias. I am a senior at James Madison University studying theatre, with concentrations in both performance and theatre education. Currently, I have the privilege of studying abroad in London for the fall semester and am taking classes while completing an internship abroad.

London's Symbolic Telephone Booth

Tea Time At Tea And Tattle

About My Internship Placement

This semester, I have the honor of working with a company called Synergy, an organization that creates impactful work across the criminal justice system. Through a rehabilitation and theatrical education approach, Synergy offers opportunities for those who have been a part of the criminal justice system to explore their own creativity. Whether the project revolves around performance, playwriting, directing, filmmaking, or focusing on youth programs, the prisoners/ex-prisoners are always put first. As I see it, the goal is to allow each participant to rediscover their own humanity through either one or several different creative methods. Many of the participants choose to continue to work with Synergy on other projects because of how impactful the company is.

Synergy Theatre Project Website

Projects I'm Currently Working On

The first big project I'm working on is a filmmaking one. This is the first project I started on, and it will last until the end of November. There are a total of seven ex-prisoners working on this. The goal for each participant is to write a script that can then be turned into a film. The project goes through different stages, where the participants will meet with an editor twice, then a film/tv director twice, and finally will begin filming their pieces. Having been a part of this project from the beginning, I have had the opportunity to talk to the participants and get to know them and their stories more. The pieces they have been working on during this time are outstanding and I'm eager to see each of their final film creations.

Another project I'm working on is a playwriting workshop. While there are 10 people total in the course, a few of them are still in prison, and they receive special permission to be part of the course. The sessions run every Monday night and the goal is to write a short play by the end of the 11-week course. The person who leads these workshops, Steve, is great at facilitating conversations and inspiring the rest of the people in the course to free-write during each session.

My Responsibilities and What I've Learned So Far

My official title in this internship placement is Project Support Intern. This means that I am responsible for reaching out to anyone who has not met a deadline or who has missed a meeting. I also work as the eyes and ears for questions or concerns, and I always have the company phone on me so that if anyone calls, I am at their disposal to answer any inquiries they may have. Additionally, I work as the bridge of communication, so I make sure to communicate any homework or new meeting times between the session leaders/admin and the participants. I send out all the emails, make all the calls, and send all the reminder and check-in texts. I also take notes during every meeting which is then reported back to Synergy so that they have a record of what we did during the project meeting times.

London At Sunset

This role has helped me develop my own communication skills, as I constantly need to communicate with and for every person on the team. It has also improved my organization skills, since I need to keep track of everyone's availability in order to schedule them accordingly. Making the phone calls are my favorite because I get the chance to ask each participant how they are doing and see if I can help support them in any way within my role. Many of them will stay on the phone with me telling me stories about their own lives. It's incredibly fascinating being able to hear about their experiences having been imprisoned at some point, and how different the criminal justice system is here vs. in the United States.

I am beyond grateful for my time working with Synergy. In the future, I want to do theatre work in prisons, so this internship has set me up perfectly for what to expect in the work. This is a company I highly value, and I hope to keep my connections with for a long time to come.

Andrea Arias is the Content Creator - Blogger.
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