Dear Future Intern,
You’re about to embark on what will be, without a doubt, one of the biggest and most intense experiences that you will ever have. So it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little nervous, or a little scared. But as scary and new and intense as it may be, I can assure you that when you look back on it, you’ll be glad you did it. It can be hard at times, but it will never be impossible.
To maybe make it easier, here’s a couple things I experienced or noticed.
Don’t expect magic. Just by stepping off of an airplane into a foreign world and spending some time there, you’re not going to be changed instantly into a different person. You might feel culture shock, and you might not, and either way you’ll still just be you. You might love where you live, you might feel caught up in the magic and mystery of a foreign land, and you might absolutely hate it. But most likely, you’ll feel all three from time to time, and most of your weeks after the first two will just be routine. You’ll have lots of amazing experiences with incredibly nice people, you’ll have a couple absolutely awful interactions, but most of the time you’ll just buy your groceries with a quick smile and a nod. And that’s fine. That’s life, no matter where you are. Quotidian life is your chance to relax, so learn to appreciate it. Don’t feel like you’re wasting your time by not experiencing the magic of the culture here that you can’t experience at home, because no matter where you are, your daily quotidian routines will always dominate your life. If you can tune out during your commute, or while cooking your meals, then take it as a chance for your mind to cool off and prepare itself for the next moment of excitement.
The most memorable events are the ones you don’t plan for. Obviously, this doesn’t mean don’t plan out your own trips or adventures. You have to get out there and starting exploring for anything to happen at all. You should plan as many trips and excursions as your budget and time allow. But be prepared for cool things to sneak up on you, and take advantage of them. Some of my most cherished memories from my stay were of things that I only got to see because I was at just the right place at just the right time, by pure coincidence. So if you’re walking down the street and you see something cool, change your plans. Go check it out, because there’s a special magic in the spontaneous and unexpected.
You’ve already succeeded. Now I’m sure you’re someone who wants to be as useful as possible, and who wants to do the best job they possibly can for their host organization. Robyn wouldn’t have chosen you if you weren’t. But if we look, just for a second, at this trip from a purely egoistic point of view, it’s already a success. The plane ticket is already booked. In a couple months, you’ll be home, your résumé will look better, you’ll have stories to tell, and your friends and family back home will be impressed and proud of you (and you should be too). So rest unstressed knowing that this experience will be a success for you. When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, divert your energy to something different: go out and meet people, try new food and challenge yourself at work.
Isolation sucks. Really. It was brutal, and I’m the biggest introvert I know. I don’t make friends easily, and I love solitude, so I didn’t bother finding people to go out and do things with. And I made it through four months, but just barely. Combine a quiet workplace with no friends to spend your evenings with, and you have a recipe for a hard time. Put those together in a country where you can’t read the billboards, can’t read the product labels, can’t understand the PA systems, and can’t understand the conversations you hear all around whenever you’re in public, and you have a recipe for a really really hard time. So go out and be around people even if you don’t particularly like them. Start conversations every chance you get, and keep in the most regular contact you ever have before with your friends back home. They’re the ones you can vent to, get advice from, and who may even keep you sane. Tell them that you don’t care how busy they are, you need a Skype call this week. Send them memes whenever you have an internet connection. You need face-to-face conversation, and you need intimate, comfortable conversation, and you might have to deal with getting those from different sources for a while.
It’s better to go a little broke and tire yourself out than to come home with . Of course, this can be taken too far, and you can put too much pressure on yourself to go out and do things and spend money. Maybe don’t go that far. If you really just want to stay home then do it. Don’t get too stressed out about doing everything, because you can’t. There will always be things you look back and wish you had done. That said, you should still push yourself outside of your comfort zone from time to time. You can do things here that you can’t do at home, and you should do as much as possible. And yeah, when you’re tired and a little stressed, you might not want to go out and explore on the weekend. But just promise yourself to take it easy on the weeknights and go out anyway. The experiences will be worth it, even if your feet are blistered, your neck is sunburnt, and you’re exhausted.
Those are some of the things I thought about while I was away, and seemed like they might be good to pass on to the next generation. Hopefully they’ll help you a little bit.