International Endeavors - Kelly Hradsky '05
Hradsky at Holi celebration, the Hindu
festival of colors, in eastern Nepal.
Back in 2005 Kelly Hradsky '05 sat down in Professor Marc Belanger’s Latin American politics course and was pleasantly surprised when he asked the class to help choose the texts for the course.
The class was small and had maybe eight or nine students. “It was fun going to class because it was obvious that Professor Belanger and all of the students were extremely interested in what we were studying, so it made for an enjoyable and interactive learning environment,” says Hradsky.
That seems to be what the future world traveler needed from her education because Hradsky is now a refugee officer with the Department of Homeland Security. She graduated from Saint Mary’s with a political science major and minors in communicative disorders and Spanish. She went on to get her law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2008.
Now Hradsky puts her knowledge of politics and human rights to work for refugees whom she travels all over the world to meet. The job with Homeland Security has only existed for about four years now and Hradsky says she had no specific plans to become a refugee officer. “But I had always loved traveling and learning about international social justice issues,” she says.
Hradsky focused on immigration law while she was in law school and worked as an immigration attorney in Chicago before starting the refugee officer job. “All of my interests came together perfectly in this position,” she says.
Hradsky had several experiences at Saint Mary’s that prepared her for her career. She studied in Seville, Spain, during her sophomore year and even went back to present her senior comprehensive project at a conference there in 2005.
She participated in Saint Mary’s study abroad program, Semester Around the World (living and learning in a number of Asian countries), recently replaced by new programs, and served as a translator in Mexico during her senior year for a community development project in Tapachula with professor Mark Abram-Copenhaver.
Her full travelogue, as well as the skills in communication and critical thinking she learned in the classroom, all play into her day-to-day work, which is variable. “…[T]he various other experience Saint Mary’s afforded outside the classroom—volunteering, student organizations, study abroad—really gave me a level of adaptability and cool headedness that I think is crucial for my job,” says Hradsky.
She spends half the year in Washington, D.C., researching various refugee populations and policies. The rest of the year she’s traveling to different countries, meeting with and interviewing refugees.
When a new refugee family walks into her office, they could be from any country, speak any language, and put forth any kind of claim or issue. “I need to be prepared to work well, in sometimes rough conditions, no matter what is thrown at me,” she says.