Yvonne Kato, Graduate Student, Tells Her Story of Internship in Thailand

Above photo, from left: Yvonne Kato and Patrick Haverman, regional partnership advisor for Asia-Pacific.

Kato works with Haverman on projects concerning engaging partners in the private, government, and civil sectors.

Yvonne Kato, a graduate student with the M.A. in International Development (IDMA) program, is an intern with the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Bangkok Regional Hub (BRH) compound for Asia and the Pacific region. UNDP Bangkok delivers country and regional programming for over 36 countries and 24 country offices. In this capacity, Kato assists in drafting and finalizing several project proposal documents, including a financial review. She is also responsible for requesting, receiving, consolidating, preparing, recording, and maintaining the UNDP RPPS team’s strategic analysis.
She is working closely with the partnership manager in developing a presentation for UNDP on 53 private sector partners.

Kato is the second IDMA student to intern with the United Nations. Here, Kato shares her story on how she arrived at Gallaudet, why she entered the IDMA program, and some of her experiences in Thailand.

“My story may possibly be a bit more unique than the average student at Gallaudet.”

Coming from a military family, I spent the majority of my formative years in Stuttgart, Germany. I was born in Savannah, Georgia, and have three other siblings-all hearing. My entire family, including me, is hearing. However, since 2010, my hearing has gradually declined due to unknown reasons. I have become hard of hearing, and need hearing aids and closed captions for clarity.

After graduating from high school, I joined the Army and served in the military
for 27 years before retiring in 2012 to be close to my son, who was attending Howard University.

I was not sure what I wanted to do with the “second phase” of my life, but I knew it had to be something I really loved. While in the military, I took one year of sign language at the local community college. I have always loved learning new languages and experiencing new cultures. My time in the Army sent me to Germany, Korea, Japan, Guam, American Samoa, Italy, France, Sweden, Austria, and many other places.

I thought about the languages I know and which ones had a shortage of interpreters. Sign language came to mind. As a child, I had a deaf friend who taught me a few basic signs. She went to a special oral school, but when she came home, she mostly signed. Her family knew enough sign language to communicate with her on a basic level, but her mother wanted her to use her voice.

I remember that I could not understand her voice and wished I knew more words so we could just sign to each other.

Because of my friend, and my love of languages, I decided to go back to school to become an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter. I completed the Interpreter Training Program (ITP) at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) in 2016. Upon graduation, I did not feel confident or ready to interpret professionally. Since I already had a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration (Columbia College, Missouri), I decided to apply at Gallaudet. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture, learn the language better, and get to know some members of the deaf community.

I chose the M.A. in International Development (IDMA) program because it looked like a perfect fit for someone like me, one who has lived such a life of diversity, experiencing people and cultures from around the world.

I was not mistaken. But even if I had not lived in all these places, the IDMA program afforded us many opportunities to study different countries, cultures, values, government systems, and human and disability rights. The fact that the IDMA program challenges its students to “go deeper” into ethnographic analysis, and identify acts of bias and injustice, are indicative of the commitment and passion exhibited in our classrooms.

I also like the fact that IDMA students are strongly encouraged to conduct the required internship internationally.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to go to a developing country in Southeast Asia. My advisor, Dr. Audrey Cooper (IDMA program director), and assistant advisor, Maegan Shanks, G-’15, (IDMA program assistant), made sure they fully understood what I wanted to do during my internship and even joined in on the search for intern opportunities. They assisted in communicating with organizations in the region I was interested in and also helping craft correspondence to potential organizations. Some of the steps were new to all involved, causing minor delays, but everything was accomplished in order for me to successfully obtain internship documents, a Thailand Visa, airline tickets, and short-term lodging until May 4.

Prior to starting my internship, my career goals were to find an internship with an interpreting agency and work on obtaining Phase II of the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS) for ASL Interpreting. Becoming a freelance interpreter is still one of my goals. However, I would like to work with an organization like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on short-term projects or initiatives. The UN has many sister organizations that I would consider working for too. I prefer to work on projects involving children and families.

This is my first work without any military affiliation, so I had to adjust my expectations, hardcore mindset, and be a bit more flexible. The internship helps me grow professionally because UNDP makes sure to include interns in ongoing training and encourages us to participate in panel discussions (i.e., International Women’s Day).

Interning in a developing country provides me a chance to see first-hand why UNDP programs are so valuable. Real poverty exists in Bangkok, Thailand. In this big beautiful city that never seems to sleep, you could look down any alley and see scantily erected neighborhoods.

On the surface, certainly in the malls, it looks like everyone has a car, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, or money to use public transportation. But as I ride to and from my comfortable condo to the UNDP, I see the people pushing carts, selling street food, and slipping into these neighborhood alleys. These are the people we are trying to impact, and I wonder about them.

I saw young deaf people on two different occasions, signing on the subway, and I wonder about them. I see disabled people, and elderly people, begging on the streets, and I wonder about them.

A pleasant surprise is how I am able to communicate between ASL and Thai Sign Language. I met a deaf man at church, and we were able to communicate quite well. Also, interpreters are used on every news broadcast in Thailand, and I can watch and understand enough of what the newscasters are talking about.

UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub (BRH) is an awesome and prestigious organization to intern with. Being here, I am able to gain a better understanding of how they carry out their purpose, and how policies and projects are implemented. Working with such a diverse group of people from various countries all around the world is enlightening, and I love sharing and introducing Gallaudet University to each person I meet.

The work is steady and understandably, requires attention to detail, but Gallaudet has prepared and equipped me thoroughly! Working at UNDP is an extension of my schooling and exactly what I hoped to achieve-seeing what I have been learning these past three semesters put into action.

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