By Zack Bennett
Madison Pigford, of Fort Mill, didn’t always know where she wanted to go to college, but she always knew she wanted to work on the global stage. After talking with a family friend and Lander alum, she decided to take a tour. “When I toured the campus I really felt like I was home,” she said.
“I have always been really interested in human rights, law and culture on a global scale,” said Pigford. “After I started looking into all of Lander’s options I fell in love with the flexibility and vast topic coverage of the international studies major. It allowed me to really mold the major into what I wanted it to be and what I was interested in.”
Eventually, she would parlay that passion and education into an internship with the New Arrivals Institute, a resource and educational service for refugees and immigrants. “My time with the New Arrivals Institute was life changing,” said Pigford. “It taught me the importance of being culturally aware of situations, and showed me how behind America is in funding for things like cultural and language education.”
Pigford worked with children ranging from early childhood through teenagers, working towards enhancing their English abilities, learning American culture and utilizing enrichment activities like art and music. “The biggest thing I got to learn about was language and how it plays such a role in the transition for refugees,” she said.
Pigford had the chance to work with a plethora of languages, such as Arabic, Spanish, Ukrainian, Swahili and French, among others. “Interacting with people who speak so many languages really helps show the diversity among people,” she said. “It helped me realize how most people in other countries either know multiple languages, or they have so little access to education that they aren’t fluent in their own language. It really put things into perspective for me.”
She credits her education with preparing her to work with such diverse backgrounds. “I had a knowledge of what was going on in the countries our clients were coming from,” said Pigford. “This helped with things like school enrollment and knowing what was acceptable culturally to our clients.”
Her work with the New Arrivals Institute and its clients inspired a new approach to learning for Pigford.
“Watching people who literally picked up their entire lives to move here and to attempt to learn an entire new cultured has inspired me to want to learn,” she said. “It truly is amazing how much these kids have taught me.”
That extra drive led Pigford to not only help clients learn English, but to start learning other languages like Kinyarwanda, an official language of Rwanda. “Taking basic language classes has helped me learn so much about different cultures that you can’t learn from a textbook.”
For the future, Pigford wants to continue working with people like refugees in the sphere of human rights and international law. “I have always wanted to work with an international population, and my time at the New Arrivals Institute only confirmed that for me,” she said. “I would like to work for an organization like the United Nations or a large non-profit that works to combat international human rights violations.”
With her foot already in the door and some experience under her belt, Pigford is ready to “advance my career in ways that I never thought possible.”