We are halfway there and all of my expectations have been shattered.

This is where the learning begins.

It is important to put yourself out there, it is important to put your all into the work you do, but it is also important to find a balance and to take time for yourself. For the first three months, I did not have this balance until eventually I burnt out. 

I wanted to be immersed in the environment I am surrounded by to the fullest extent possible. I wanted to be positive and enthusiastic about everything that happens during my internship abroad. To achieve this, I overextended myself. Too often I would spend time with co-workers, fellow interns, and new friends. I did not take enough time for myself. I am an introvert who consistently pushes myself to be more extroverted. This was how I thought I had to be to be successful, to be happy, and to learn.

Hayley, Me, and Selina during our first week in Malaysia. Do Selina and I look like sisters? Is Hayley our mother? Who knows…

Unfortunately, this was unrealistic. I found myself making commitments I could not keep. I would dread spending time with the lovely people who made me happy because I failed to acknowledge my own needs.

My work days are filled with an extreme amount of social interaction. I love the students I work with at MSRI, their passion, their excitement and their rebelliousness. Nevertheless, working with kids is exhausting, as anyone who does this would know. I found it extremely difficult to force myself out of the house in the evening after a day of work, but I had the expectation that this is what I was meant to do and that it would be good for me and those around me.

During the past three months, I believed that the only way to make the most of my time here in Kuala Lumpur was to meet as many people as possible and do as many things as possible.

I was wrong.

If anyone is like me, an introvert who pushes themselves to be an extrovert, listen closely. 

Spending time alone does not mean you are not making the most out of an experience. Spending time alone does not mean that you are not advocating for those around you and willing to engage with the community. Taking the time to monitor your own mental and physical health has to be your number one priority. “You cannot help others until you help yourself” is an important quote we have all heard before. You cannot support others until you are healthy. You cannot learn until you are ready to focus. Every single person in the world is different, so you must not compare yourself to your truly extroverted peers who are consistently doing the things you think you should be doing.

A few weeks ago, I broke down. After that, I gave myself some space. I started renting books, I started monitoring my physical health closely, and I started spending most nights in my bedroom with the door closed. It has been lovely and my mood has improved exponentially. As a result, I have been better equipped to deal with the challenges that arise at work. I have been more positive and rational in my day to day thoughts. I owe this all to spending time alone.

The room I have been hiding myself in for the past few weeks…

It is unrealistic to be friends with and communicate with everyone you meet. I love to hear the stories that individuals carry with them. Here in Malaysia, it is easy to make friends. Sometimes it becomes too much. I am learning to create boundaries, and I am learning to say no. 

When I arrived, I thought the learning would take place through the things that I did. Sometimes, the real learning happens through the things that we don’t do. Making mistakes is the most important part of the journey. I am still working to create a balance. Right now, I might be isolating myself from the community too much. I am still figuring out that balance. 

During the time in my bedroom, I have been increasing my knowledge about the world around me. The time in my bedroom is spent watching the news, watching documentaries, and reading books. Through these mediums, I am increasing my awareness about the issues that our organization, MSRI, responds to. I am learning about the histories of the countries that many of the students come from, and I am becoming more aware of the history and challenges facing Southeast Asia.

When I feel overwhelmed, I turn to experiencing the world around me through books and videos. This is how learning works for me, and that is okay.