Looking back on a lifetime in 6 months

It’s amazing how quickly time goes by. Soon, new interns will be sitting in desks at MSRI; new faces, new experiences, half a world away – it all seems like it was almost yesterday but suddenly we are here, sending off the future.

It’s difficult to even start looking back over the internship, or just my time in Malaysia, because to do so, I have to return to where everything started in the first place and the reasons that began the whole journey. I thought I understood, or tried to understand before I left – but all I really knew was that everything suddenly had the possibility to change. That the world might just open up in ways it never has before. To help in the adjustments, there is an orientation before departure where all the interns were asked to learn and teach about our host country; to learn the differences between political asylum seekers and refugees, to learn about what our new home can be like – but somehow nothing truly captures it.

I remember dying to learn something – anything – about Malaysia. How do people converse? Are there expectations of language? Should I bring an umbrella? (Would that be weird?) Are there small but integral facets of interaction I should know ahead of time? What is an ‘authentic’ Malaysian life? Is there one?

Probably yes, but you’ll learn on your feet as long as you keep looking.

 For me, time is broken up in my memory.

There’s the first week:

I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everything about me seemed to shout out to everyone – my skin, my height, those weird pants I wore because everything is always so hot but which my friends always made fun of me for. 

Dear future intern… what you will learn: Smiles open up the world. People want to know you, don’t be afraid. Then suddenly, you start to find your way around. 

What you will also learn: What you know, or think you know is just a drop in the bucket.

It’s the first day of work:

I was nervous, so nervous. It took a long time to open up to myself and more so around others.

About a month had past before I found myself feeling comfortable with myself in this new environment. A lot of this has to do with the fact that you are working and living with people you never even knew a week before you left. There is a lot of opportunity to redefine yourself but whether that happens at home or faraway doesn’t really matter in the end.

3 months in:

There were times when the expectations you have for yourself and for others are challenged. You make mistakes. Big ones. I learned really fast that it doesn’t matter how you make them (cause you will) but that the only important thing is that you acknowledge them to yourself and others. Never stop learning. Suddenly you realize you have created family over there. Your friends have become your brothers and sisters. They open up to you and you realize your world has been tilted on its axis. 

Time has passed so quickly. (Wednesday, ‘Hump day’ is definitely the third month in). If the last three months could cram so much into themselves – however will you survive the next 3 months!?

Then just as fast, they’ve passed too. 

Saying Goodbye:

I always wondered if the person I created for myself would come home with me. I can tell you, she definitely did. If you open up and let people in, the friends and experiences you’ve had become such a part of you that you are forever changed. In the end, you never say truly say goodbye. It’s really a small world after all. 

All I can say, is that to future interns and travelers: The world is bigger and more broad than one can ever imagine. In that strange and endless search for “authenticity” – never stop looking.