Friends From the Field – Danielle Johnston from RefugePoint
In 2007, Danielle volunteered at a Liberian refugee camp outside of Accra, Ghana. This was her first introduction to the refugee field and well, despite sounding cliche, she knew she had found her calling. In 2011, she graduated from the American University in Cairo with a Master’s in Human Rights Law with a Graduate Diploma in Forced Migration and Refugee Studies. She volunteered with two refugee organizations based in Cairo during this time. In March 2012 she moved to Nairobi, Kenya to work with RSC Africa as a caseworker – she traveled all over sub-Saharan Africa to interview refugees for the United States Refugee Admissions Program. She interviewed the refugees prior to their USCIS interviews, and assisted USCIS officers adjudicate refugee cases and claims. If they were approved then they they would be resettled somewhere in the US (pending medical and security clearances, of course). In May 2014 she began working for RefugePoint which is based out of Boston. They offer deployment opportunities, contracted to UNHCR, for “Resettlement Experts” to be posted around sub-Saharan Africa to interview refugees for resettlement to other countries (USA, Canada, European countries, Australia, New Zealand – primary countries). They offered her the posting in Cairo (only non-Sub Saharan post with RefugePoint) and she jumped at the chance to return as she loves Cairo amidst all the craziness, traffic and pollution. Her contract is renewable at the end of every year but for now she’s there and plans to be for a bit.
What is your nickname (or one of them) and how do you get it?
Most people call me “D” or “Daniela”. It seems it’s only in the US that Danielle is a female name whereas the rest of the world Danielle is for a male and Daniela for female. I often get confused looks when I tell people my name is “Danielle” so I usually say “Daniela” now.
Which country do you come from/call home?
Vermont, in the United States, will always be home but am currently living in Cairo, Egypt.
Are you a backpacker/long term traveler/business traveler/live and work abroad?
In May 2014 I was offered a contract with UNHCR Cairo in Egypt through my employer, RefugePoint. For two years prior to this I worked for an RSC Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya but I was often traveling around sub-Saharan Africa for work. For both jobs, my duties entail interviewing refugees from Africa and the Middle East for resettlement to third countries.
I have been living abroad permanently for the past 7 1/2 years. I try to do as much personal travel as I can, usually taking one or two nice holidays per year.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst traveling/other)?
Both savings and work while traveling.
How old were you when you made your first trip? Where did you go?
I spent a semester abroad in San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina with AFS my junior year of high school; I was sixteen years old.
What countries have you traveled to since?
I have since been to Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cayman Islands, England, Bulgaria, Italy, The Holy See, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, South Africa, Namibia, Chad, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
I’ll be able to mark France and Holland off the list come April 2015 when I visit friends in Holland and hopefully run the 2015 Paris Marathon which I’ve signed up for.
You are an amazing videographer; what natural place are you going back to shoot?
I would go back to Rwanda and just shoot everything in sight. The country, known as the “land of a thousand hills,” is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. The greenery is indescribable and is hard to capture in photos.
You have won the lottery; now tell us what city you want to live in?
I would probably move to Cape Town, South Africa. It’s right on the ocean but surrounded by mountains and wine country in Stellenbosch is only an hour away. The cost of living in Cape Town isn’t as expensive as one would think but I would definitely need a good bank account to support my love for wine.
Give us your ideal dinner party and the historical place?
My ideal dinner party would be to invite the wonderful friends I have made over the years so that I could have them all together in one place at once. A lot of them have been my family away from home so they’ve had a significant impact on my life and I continue to have very close relationships with them. It would be very cool to have a dinner party in the Grotto in Beirut, Lebanon or by Rome’s Colosseum.
You, unfortunately, have been condemned to die, but fortunately, you get to have any meal in the world before you go. What is your cuisine?
Lobster, corn on the cob, garlic mashed potatoes and my grandmother’s chocolate chip pie. I’ve had a lot of delicious food over the years while traveling but I grew up as a steak and potatoes girl and often visited my family in Maine where lobster was a daily dish. Would have to go out after eating some real comfort food.
Celebrity you’re taking and beach you’re going back to?
Living abroad has it’s ups and downs but pop culture definitely takes a back seat. It’s always such a culture shock when I go back to the US for the holidays because I have no idea what’s going on in regards to celebrities, music, movies, television shows, etc. I’ve always loved James Franco and would go to Playa Rincon in the Dominican Republic as it’s still one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to.
You have an unlimited travel budget for 24 hours. Where are you headed?
So hard but probably some place in Europe only because it’s just so expensive. I’d go skiing in Switzerland or bar and tapas hopping in Spain.
What advice do you have for a new traveler?
BE OPEN to new things! Be open minded – be open to meeting new people, trying to speak the local language, eating new food.
What has traveling around the world taught you?
That I am just one person in a world full of amazing people and there is no place like home – family and friends are everything.