Helen O'Reilly, Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
Helen P. O’Reilly
School of Foreign Service ‘03
International Politics and Latin American Studies
Luce Scholar – 2006
Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans – 2010.
In 2006, I worked at The Visayan Forum Foundation, a Philippines based NGO known for its work empowering vulnerable migrant domestic workers and victims of human trafficking. I was part of the Resource Center team based in the main office in Manila.
How did you become interested in this field and country?
Growing up in Queens, I was friends with many Filipino-Americans, which sparked a real respect for Filipino people and a deep curiosity about the country’s complex historical relationship with the United States. I chose to work in the Philippines because I was drawn to an organization that was so focused on practical solutions to seemingly intractable social problems. Both my parents are immigrants to the U.S. from Ireland, so I was excited to work with migrant communities in the Philippines seeking a better life through hard work.
What were helpful strategies you employed in pursuing this fellowship?
I didn’t rush into it. I applied after working for 3-years in New York City as an advocate for children in the juvenile justice system. Having some work experience under my belt made me a better prepared and more confident applicant. In my view, a good application is the product of a lot of introspection. It is incredibly hard to write about oneself in a sincere and compelling way. You’re better off being yourself than trying to guess what the application committee is looking for. Also, if you don’t succeed the first time, don’t be afraid to try again.
What were some difficulties you encountered and how did you address them?
It was hard to make friends in the Philippines at first. I had to learn to be very patient and to give people time to really get to know me as a person. It helped that I tried to learn the local language and made an effort to get to know everyone in the office, not just the people who were the fluent English-speakers. It was hard, also, to stand out in a society when I was used to blending in. I never really got used to being a constant source of attention, but over time it bothered me less and less.
What are you most looking forward to doing on your fellowship?
I really enjoyed meeting new people and discovering what a beautiful world we live in. I traveled throughout much of Asia and I made wonderful, life-long friends with the other Luce Scholars.
What are your interests outside this fellowship?
I enjoy spending time with my family, reading, and running. I graduated from law school in 2011 and now I am working for a Judge in New York City. I remain interested in being an advocate of people who struggle to make ends meet.
What’s your favorite memory from Georgetown?
I was part of the Improv Troupe at Georgetown. I loved getting on stage and trying to create humor out of random situations. Also, I loved spending time in the library. Nerdy, but true! I was a real night owl and had some of my best conversations with friends on a study break late at night.
Last words: There is no “ideal applicant” to a fellowship. Don’t be afraid to try.
There are no scheduled upcoming events at this time.