After graduating from Groton School this past year, alumna Claire Holding ’17 has made impressive use of her gap year to support refugees and migrants in South Africa. Since August, Claire has served as an intern with the Scalabrini Centre for Refugees in Cape Town, living with other students from across the globe and working to apply the passions and values she developed during her time as a student at DCD.

“I work in the Employment Access aspect of the organization,” Claire explains, “so my clients are refugees and asylum seekers, and I help them do things like update their CV and make sure they have the basic skills they need to enter the modern workforce.”

When considering what led her to this experience, Claire sees a clear connection between her time as a student and this strong step into the application of her values.

“At DCD, I was definitely the big social justice kid in my grade. And I would say that everyone at DCD was really supportive of that. And knowing that I wanted to take a gap year, I thought that I might as well use this as an opportunity to put into action everything that I’ve been saying.”

Along with granting her the opportunity to employ her beliefs in a real-world setting, this internship also offers Claire the experience of a broadened worldview and a growing independence.

“I love traveling with my parents, but I really wanted to do this on my own. I’ve been at boarding school for so long, and as incredible as that experience was, I really wanted much more freedom and independence and breaking the mold that I’ve been in for the past 18 years. So, I didn’t know anyone when I got here, but everyone is lovely and really interesting — the coolest people.”

Claire also appreciates the opportunities her internship offers to immerse herself in the South African culture, recognizing that growing her understanding in this regard can prove hugely valuable in building true connections with those she has come here to serve.

“We do culture series on Monday nights,” she says. “We recently did a cooking class on traditional Xhosa food. Yesterday we learned some Xhosa slang and Afrikaans. Every Friday we go on excursions, so last week we went to Cape Point. It’s so beautiful, and it gets more beautiful every time, and of course, the baboons are very entertaining — they tried to steal my friend’s phone.”

At the same time, she also makes meaningful use of her free time to serve the community of which she has become a part.

“On Saturdays, I spend half my day going into townships where our group leader lives. She’s starting an NGO keeping kids off the streets, and she’s created this reading club. My friends and I will drive out to Kyleesha, where she lives, and meet with the kids, help them with their English, and play games. It’s a lot of fun, and we get to see a whole different side of South Africa that isn’t seen in Cape Town City Centre. It has a very different feel, and it’s really cool to experience.”

For Claire, this blend of service and personal growth seems a natural pairing — due in no small part to her past experiences as a student at DCD.

“DCD is so community-based, especially with things like community-service Fridays. I was there for ten years, so growing up in that environment, you were taught to help people. And that was just ingrained in me, beginning when I started at DCD when I was four. Having that as I was growing up was a really beneficial part of me wanting to get more involved in issues I really care about and reach out to people I can help. I’m still not totally sure what I want to do with my life, but it will definitely be related to human rights, and I’ll probably wind up going into law or something similar.”

When asked what advice she would offer to current students at DCD, Claire is quick to distill what she took away from her time here.

“Look for things that are going to challenge you and help you grow. Really take advantage of the small community, because nowhere else you go will ever be the same. Don’t take that for granted, especially in terms of access to your teachers and resources. Take advantage of that while you can.”

Just as she values the opportunities for building community at DCD, these small moments of personal connection are the ones Claire still appreciates the most today.

“I love working with the clients,” Claire says. “I spent all of yesterday helping this really sweet guy get a job, and in our office, we have this big wall of success stories. And the work can be really hard and tedious, but looking at that, you can see that you’re helping these people so much. For the first time basically in my life, I’m doing something other than just improving my own education, and it’s pretty awesome. And you get such a great feeling when you can say: here, I can help you not be in such a bad place anymore. And that’s really great.”