Dear Future Intern,
You courageous thing! My full and warmest wishes for you and your journey ahead. These are just a few things I wish I could have said to myself eight months ago. Take whatever you need and ignore the rest.
1) Please don’t worry. Or know that if you are, you are choosing to worry. You can either decide to stop or can at least really enjoy worrying while you do it. Give yourself a good worry.
2) For some, this experience is a no-brainer-thing they’ve fully committed to or have wanted to do forever and feel unbounded amounts of enthusiasm for. You may feel people have it all together and just can’t wait to get on the plane. For some, like me, it wasn’t like that. I was scared shitless literally everyday for two months before I left. Every type of hesitation you can name: cold feet and second thoughts, nerves and doubts. I was really wondering if I had made a good decision for myself. Please know that you are no less courageous because you’re scared or feel hesitant. Somewhere, in some part of your body/mind/heart a piece of you was drawn to step out into something different. Try to trust this part of you, no matter how big, small, or seemingly invisible it may seem.
3) Maybe don’t worry so much about feeling “ready”, who the hell knows what the real challenges will be anyway.
4) What you anticipate to be difficult or find yourself dreading may in fact be your absolute favourite thing and may turn out to be the life-saver from all the stuff you thought you’d love. I was scared to death to work in the school with the students before I came. Now, I go into the school when I need to cheer myself up. I walk through the gate, see one smiling student, one feisty grade 2 girl tell off her older brother, hear one “Hi Teacha!” and boom, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
5) Get in the rhythm. By going on this trip you are entering into a different rhythm of life. Food may take 30 seconds, trains may take days, busses may be late, phone plans will take 2 minutes to sort out. It’s different and it can be easy to get irritated. Just try and realise you’re in a different rhythm, just go with it, things take a different amount of time.
6) I found in the first couple months it was good to let go of my own agenda of what I wanted to do, my own ideas of how I could most help or what I could offer. Sometimes you think you’re going to go in and really do something major and offer a bunch of your own ideas. Then you get in and realise what’s actually needed is someone to hand out sandwiches or stand by the printer for two hours. This was me “helping” for the first few months. After a couple months of doing this my ideas for bigger projects were more informed. These things are helped me learn from the bottom up about what’s actually needed.
7) Its hard, but don’t worry too much if you don’t feel like your having the “amazing time” you might have imagined or been told about from previous interns or anyone else. Sometimes you only fully appreciate experiences from travels after you’ve come home. This is okay. You may leave feeling underwhelmed, disappointed, or relieved and after a couple months, find your memories are kinder than you realised or that with some distance you are able to appreciate things you couldn’t at the time. You may realise that you actually did learn a lot or that the lessons weren’t what you originally thought they were.
I would say “get ready” but there’s really no possible I could have been in anyway ready for what I found here in this place or within me. None of us are really ready and that’s the whole point.
Other than that, get out there, live it, love it. Pack something that makes you feel grounded like a guitar, a book or some face cream. Whatever is going to make you feel like you have a little something to rely on. Eat as much as you can while you are away (really, as much as you can). Don’t be afraid to feel a bit stupid, you’ll learn. Find something you can treat yourself with on the days where it gets hard. Breathe.
And just know there was someone who was much more scared than you are and still went and enjoyed it more than she could have imagined.
Thinking of you and wishing you the best on your travels,