Dear future intern…
If you haven’t yet applied, do so. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to work and live abroad in a conscious manner while being supported by an incredible community of peers and mentors.
If you have applied and succeeded (congrats), here are four practical life hacks that helped me while I was in my placement. I hope they can help you as well, if only a bit:
- The eff yah technique (credit: Taylor Josephy, copyright) – Applicable to any situation that provokes a genuine four letter word, whether that be a stubbed toe or a long day of aching homesickness, simply build a mental cue to follow up the curse with and enthusiastic “YAH!” Your anger/frustration/despair/sadness will instantly be replaced by absolute hype, the natural physiological response to letting out a solid “F**K YAH!” Plus you’ll start to laugh at the fact that you were so psyched to stub your toe, so it’s a double whammy. Your negative emotion doesn’t stand an effing chance.
- Backwards undies (credit: Kate Chadwick) – The next time you’re giving a presentation and the fate of the program you’re working on depends on you… no the fate of your entire host organization… actually no the fate of the entire Global South!… put your undies on backwards when you get up that morning. It’s pretty tough to take yourself seriously when you remember your undies are on backwards, so not only will it diffuse your hubris as a savior to your independently competent host organization, it will also help relieve the pressure of performing and thus, paradoxically, improve your performance and the depth of your contributions. If backwards undies doesn’t work for you, you can just throw on a completely ludicrous pair. If you ever see someone deliver a super calm, down to earth presentation, chances are they’re rocking a diaper (<— another life hack as your gastrointestinal system adjusts to your new diet, credit: Hannah Shin). In fact, just bring an entire wardrobe of funny thongs to ground yourself throughout your placement.
- The last time trick (credit: some long dead stoic) – Simply put, approach every moment as if it was the last time you will experience it. This sounds like some live laugh love first tattoo bs – and it is – but hear me out. The reality of being human is that we will unarguably have a last time experiencing every moment – a last stroll on the town, a last time eating authentic street food, a last time getting food poisoning – and the even briefer mortality of your placement means that all these “lasts” will come sooner than you can imagine. Explicitly reminding yourself of this (I mean really, voice in your head, “This may be the last time I…”) will allow you to savor the good and, more importantly, access a deep patience and appreciation for the mundane and frustrating. Ex: In Zambia, I always get hissed at and and cat-called Mizungu! (whitey). It’s completely negligible compared to what other genders and races have to put up with and they do not intend disrespect, but my pleasantry-dredged upbringing in Canadian and my completely futile dedication to become less of a foreigner here mean that irritation is my natural response. But there will be a day when I don’t get to turn around to a Zambian hissing at me from 10km away, waving like crazy, gleefully shouting out a (very very minor) racial slur. And I’ll miss that. So now this moment brings smiles instead of frowns. (Please do not interpret this as me saying that people should be grateful for racism, that is not my intent or belief)
- Be humble, sit down! (Credit Christopher Tse ft. Kendrick Lamar) – You will inevitably be presented with opportunity solely based on your white skin/culture, and when you take that opportunity, you take it from someone else. Practicing spiral learning can help identify when this is taking place, but mentally bumping the Humble chorus can help you prioritize cultural and professional humility in those moments. Who knows, it was probably Kendrick’s intention to mitigate the paternalistic and oppressive tendencies of western students abroad. Another very practical tool that Chris taught us (thank you) was to simply always ask: “Who’s voice is missing?” This way you can actually use the undeserved opportunity afforded to you and transfer it to those who deserve it, but are denied it. This life hack is more so for the lives of others, but it can help avoid the horrible realization that you just leveraged history to take opportunity away from someone on the losing end. Thus, it can make you a lot more comfortable with your place within the placement.
Lastly, in the spirit of life hack number 3, this is my last blog post as a CAPI intern, so I’d like to try and make something right by it. Throughout my placement, I neglected the deliverable timelines and made the life of an amazing, amazing coordinator (Robyn) all the more stressful for it. So, Dear Future Intern… avoid similar regret and complete your deliverables with punctuality and meaningful reflection! There will come a time when you aren’t encouraged to explore personal growth and important global issues while in a relevant setting, so take advantage and dive in.
And of course, thank you Robyn, for everything.