I hope you’re feeling good, or at least good-ish, about the road ahead. It’s quite a grand opportunity to get six months overseas fully funded, let alone school credits, work experience, and some excellent stories to boot. Get stoked… you’re gonna have a blast (I actually can’t guarantee this, but am pulling for you.)
Beyond just excitement, I hope you recognize that you, we, are in a uniquely privileged position as seven per cent of the world’s population fortunate enough to attain a university education and the far less than seven that gets to travel overseas as a part of that university education, to have these incredible opportunities. To have Canadian passports or Canadian visas, English fluency, and the Whiteness (not merely a skin colour but an ontology and epistemology internalized even by those of us who are not white but were raised here) that allows us to move mostly unfettered through the world. Indeed, there are not many “tips” I can offer to you here; most of us have traveled, or know enough at least to roll our t-shirts and keep our toothpaste in baggies, have the Google Translate app and unlocked phones that will handle any local SIM card.
No, the only thing I can offer in preparation for your time overseas is just a gentle nudge (one that I always need reminders of as well) to wrestle with what it means to be in such a uniquely privileged position as you find yourself in – all the incredible benefits of such an experience, for sure, but just as importantly, the weight of responsibility born as a result of privilege. This experience does not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, it carries with it the burden of history, of centuries of colonialism that gave way to neo-colonialism, the continued pillaging of the Global South by those from the Global North, exploitation not just on the grounds of labour and resources, but increasingly, the extraction of stories and cultures and exoticization of poverty. We need to wrestle with this, we need to dig. Dig into what it means for you to work with stateless people during the week and travel to different countries on weekends. Dig into what it means for you to have a voice at the table as a Canadian university student when colleagues 20 years your senior with loads more experience continually have their voices go unheard. Dig into what it means for our Western social justice discourses to fall flat on their faces, trouble what that means – not that our theories don’t hold water, but dig into how they apply in a different context, with cultural humility, alongside people who live and fight visceral oppression on a daily basis without being able to define it. Dig into your own personal complicity as a Canadian or someone studying in Canada within the neoliberal capitalist exploitation of the place where you will be living (believe me, it will be more evident than you know.) Additionally, dig into what it means for people to herald Canada as a utopia, and how we have a choice to either uphold this narrative and wave our flags on July 1, or alternatively, open the closet and let our national skeletons come stumbling out for people to see so we can challenge colonial histories, conceptions of citizenship, the arbitrariness of nation-statehood, and work towards transnational justice together in true authenticity.
To learn to do this, please read. Watch videos, listen to podcasts, read articles, engage in tough conversations with people who are skeptical about development work, who will challenge you on whether your experience is exploitative and oblige you to dig. This discomfort will be the most valuable in holding you accountable to an ethos that is not so much predicated on adventure, resume-building, or even helping, but rather on confronting your complicity in the globalization machine head-on and making sense of what it means to live in the world as you. We are not making a difference in the places we work through this internship. In truth, there is little we can offer besides good intentions and helping hands. But “making a difference” wasn’t really the point anyway – crossing borders, and figuring out what it will take to dismantle them… I would propose that that is the true work here.
Don’t forget to roll your t-shirts.