If I could sum up my internship in a word…. Well, I wouldn’t. Even if there were a word to describe the learning, the struggles, the joy and the hardship I experienced over the last seven months, it wouldn’t be the right word. It wouldn’t be a word that you could read, and nod your head, and say “yeah, I get it now.” If you could then it would be a cheap word and they would’ve been cheap experiences. There were lots of things that were cheap on my internship, like the cost of a plate of grilled chicken, or a motor-taxi, or my rent. But my experiences weren’t one of them. And neither will yours be when you’ve accepted your internship placement and started your life somewhere in Asia.
If you’ve decided to spend six months abroad then you’ve committed to something huge. You’ve gotten the ball rolling, and now you just have to let yourself get carried away. You might know a lot about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, but more likely than not you have no clue what you’ve gotten yourself into. You’ll show up in a country you may never have been, people will speak to you in a language you might never have heard, and all of a sudden you’ll realize this is your new home.
Home is one of my favorite words. Google defines home as the place where one lives. I think it’s a lot more than that though. Home is a feeling of belonging. Home is that feeling of safety when you walk in a door and know that you can take off your shoes, take off the mask you wear outside and the filter around your month.
I can’t tell you what to do, but I can say that the most important thing for me when I go somewhere new is to find a home. Whether that’s a room in a boarding house, a group of friends that make you feel safe, or a space where you can let loose in, having a home is always worth it.
Don’t think that just because you’re in unfamiliar territory there’s nothing familiar. Find people who share similar hobbies, find a living space that looks like your old house, create spaces that make you feel comfortable in a sea of strange new things. You’ll be surprised how quickly those unfamiliar things outside will start to feel familiar, how quickly your home will expand.
People like to say that an adventure abroad will change you. Take risks, explore, and you’ll find yourself. I don’t believe that. I don’t think novelty can change who you are. It’s when the novel becomes mundane, when the adventures becomes your everyday life, and new places become your home that you’ll change. The home you grew up in shaped who you are, and the home you create on your internship will continue to shape you.
I’m not going to tell you that accepting this placement in a foreign country will be an exciting journey of self-discovery. I won’t say that you’ll do and see things you’ve never experienced before and learn from a world you never could have imagined. You will, but you won’t hear about it from me.
Don’t get too excited by the prospect of a new world. It’s not a new world. It’s just the same old world, all you’ll be doing is seeing it from a different perspective.
Get excited about how your everyday life will change. Get excited about taking a motor-taxi into work because it’s more convenient than your bike back in Victoria. Get excited about the fried chicken you’ll eat on the streets because it’s cheaper than anything you’d get in your home town. Get excited about the people you meet in the market every Sunday because their smiles are so friendly.
If you’re reading this to get my advice, the only thing I can tell you is to think small. Don’t try to understand the culture of your host country. Countries are huge and regional differences are abundant. Instead try to understand the culture on your street. Don’t try to tackle all the issues in the Asia-Pacific, there are too many and you’re just one (probably not too experienced) person. Instead focus on a few things that you can have an impact on. Don’t try to travel the world, it’s one big world. Just figure out how to get to your favorite street food stall and back in one piece to start off.
These little things are what makes up a person’s experiences. It’s these little things that will become a part of the home you create for yourself. You might be going on what seems like a crazy adventure, but once you’ve settled in it will just be another place you belong.
I can’t sum up my internship in a word, at least not one that will resonate with you the way it does with me. Home isn’t my internship in a word, it’s just the lens through which I experienced it. My advice, find your home, find that familiar place that makes you feel safe, and from that spot experience all the wild adventures that you can’t express in words.