As I find myself back home in Victoria, what strikes me most is how easy it is to settle back into my old routine. Nevertheless, I have been given a new repertoire of experiences upon which to reflect and find meaning. For this I am grateful, and I will carry these forward in time. Examining the many experiences I had, I now look to extract lessons for the future. These lessons are valuable to myself, and as I hope, for future candidates too.
First, success has many measures, although some matter more than others. What makes a successful internship? While this question has many different answers, at the most fundamental level a candidate ought to be able to temporally recognize their own personal growth through the experiences they gathered throughout their placement abroad. From here, one ought to examine their relationship with the organization in which they were placed, the country they lived, and those close to them.
Second, negative experiences are just as valuable as positive experiences. Negative experiences offer learning opportunities, while exposing faults or areas to improve upon. Candidates going forward ought to be wary of conceptualizing the future ahead as only fun, interesting, and meaningful. There will be times where you will be bored stiff, indifferent to the work at hand, and lost. Likewise, there will be excitement, education, and new people to meet. Finally, avoid preemptively ascribing purpose or meaning to your placement, it is best to go into it with a clean slate.
Third, contextualize yourself in your host country and organization. Being thrust into a new country offers an excellent opportunity to observe new political and sociocultural phenomenon. Don’t isolate yourself from news and events in and around your country. It is worth following national news publications and engaging with a country’s political culture. Likewise, organizational culture in an NGO, like any enterprise, is extremely important. Recognize that you are being placed in an organization with its own particular history, finite resources, and an entrenched culture. Finally, familiarize yourself with the issues at hand. For instance, if you are working with refugees, try to garner an understanding of the issues they face or the conflicts they have escaped.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to constructively criticize yourself, host country, and your organization. Hear criticism from others, and be able to criticize when it’s your turn. Of course, one ought to be self aware of their own position, whether it is appropriate to criticize, and how criticism will be received. There is a time and a place for everything, and even if you think you have it all figured out, take time to reflect on your own positionality. There will be times where you will be confident in your own assessment, only to find out that your opinion, while perhaps potentially valuable, will not be well received. Ultimately, you are transient and your placement is finite, recognize this and pick your battles wisely.
These are four thoughts I leave for future candidates to ponder before they go on into their placements.