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Using Russian to Help Build New Lives


As a resettlement case manager Erin Sullivan ’13 works primarily with Russian speaking refugees from the former Soviet Union, helping them settle into housing, navigate a mountain of paperwork, get to appointments and enroll in English courses. In short, she helps them establish new lives.

Sullivan works for HIAS, a global nonprofit resettlement agency, in its New York City office and its office in Westchester County. She loves her work, and she also loves that it allows her to use the language she studied at Hamilton as a Russian studies major.

She spent a semester studying in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which built up her conversational skills and confidence. She wrote her senior thesis about immigrant communities and code switching between Russian and English.  And Sullivan volunteered as an English language tutor at a refugee center in the nearby city of Utica. Those experiences opened up ideas about what she might do after she graduated.

Her first stop after Hamilton was a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Cherepovets, Russia. Next came a job teaching English as a second language in an adult education program at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. After a few years, however, Sullivan began to think about working in case management and one-on-one services with immigrant populations, which led her to her current job.

When Sullivan looks back at her time at Hamilton one thing that stands out is a course she took on tutoring English as a second language. The other is every one of her Russian language courses. “I don’t know if I could chose one because it was just an ongoing thing throughout all four years — looking back on it now, they were all extremely valuable for me,” she says.

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