Robert Berry '08 Never Stops Learning
by Sara Curnow Wilson
In this time of “fake news,” it can be hard to get straightforward, clear information about refugees and immigration. Enter Robert Berry (CLA ’08). Berry graduated with a double major in religion and Asian studies, a double minor in political science and Japanese language and a certificate in Arabic language to boot. Now he is putting his studies to work as a Refugee and Asylum Officer with the Department of Homeland Security.
As part of the Dissent in America Teach-In series, Berry will return to Temple this week to discuss his experiences in international protection. Read on to hear about how his life has changed since graduation and what he is most excited to do on campus.
Robert Berry's talk, "Challenges in the Syrian Refugee Crisis," will be held on Friday, March 3 from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. in Tuttleman Hall 2013.
You graduated from Temple almost 10 years ago. Back then, what did you think you'd be doing now?
In college, I had a more vague sense of my purpose relegated to repairing our international relationships in some capacity. Vagueness of path can be good sometimes; it keeps you open to possibility. I wanted to contribute meaningfully in some way to global politics and our international affairs. I wanted to do good in the post 9/11 world, when we were deep in two wars, and talking about a possible third in Iran. I thought I could help change the tides, and so I was considering either going for a PhD in international affairs and becoming an academic, or becoming a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. Back then, I thought those were the two best avenues to achieve what I was out for. A professional career is an avenue to achieve something, or at least that is how I look at it.
Were you right?
Sort of. You don't know what you don't know, and I didn't know back then there are so many other avenues toward the same goal. I was right about purpose, but the paths are many. Sometimes you are better suited for something you don't even know exists. The best advice I can give is to somehow strike a balance between doing what you truly love and paying the bills.
Your CV is impressive. At Temple alone you had a double major in religion and Asian studies, a double minor in political Science and Japanese and a certificate in Arabic. How have you used those since you graduated?
To have a firm grounding in the liberal arts — and in my case religion, culture, and politics — is to understand forces that influence how people and the world work. That is invaluable to me, especially when relating to people. I use my language skills every day in my work, particularly Spanish and Arabic. I also use them to access much of the world when traveling for fun. When you speak the language, a country that speaks that language opens up to you in a much deeper way. In sum, the liberal arts have opened the world and its people up to me. That's pretty essential for international and humanitarian affairs.
What are some of the other highlights of your career since graduating from Temple?
After graduate school, I became the managing editor of Search for Common Ground's global news wire for Muslim-Western understanding in D.C. Subsequently, I was a program director that built out study abroad curricula for Envoys LLC in Boston. Now I am a Refugee and Asylum Officer with the Department of Homeland Security.
To have a firm grounding in the liberal arts — and in my case religion, culture, and politics — is to understand forces that influence how people and the world work.
What's next for you?
I am very happy working in international protection, and don't see myself leaving DHS Refugee, Asylum and International Operations (RAIO) for the time being. However, this summer I will participate in the University of Oxford's Summer School in Forced Migration, which I am really excited for. Never stop learning.
You're participating in a teach-in on campus this week. Can you tell us about that?
I am going to talk about refugee and asylum law at the teach-in, as well as my personal experiences in Jordan as an officer working as part of a team to process President Barack Obama's 10,000 Syrian refugees — the largest US resettlement effort in our history.
That sounds fascinating. Are you excited to be back on campus?
A resounding yes! I am really excited to see some of my professors again and have a cheesesteak at the SAC.
What do you miss most about Temple (besides cheesesteaks)?
I miss my professors, and the happenings in the Honors Lounge the most. We had some wonderful times.
What is the biggest lesson you learned in school?
Be yourself. Unabashed.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned since graduating?
You have to live your life with integrity. Always keep your word, and if you break it somehow (don't), acknowledge that, and recommit to living true. Michelle Obama said, "Your word is your bond." Without word and action, we are nothing much. If word and action are inconsistent, then one is unreliable. Others don't work with unreliable people.