Dear future intern,
Wowza. The past few weeks have been full of cold feet (literally), adjusting and re-adjusting, and reflecting on new and old understandings of home, time, the meaning of place, and embodiment.
Being back in Victoria feels like I never left, and my time spent in Bangkok feels like a dream. Being back “home,” I can say wholeheartedly that I am excited for you. And I cannot wait to watch you learn, unlearn, grow, flourish, cry, and EAT. As I struggle to think of a list of things to tell you, remember that your experience will be completely and uniquely yours. During your internship, you might find yourself utterly excited and hopeful about your new surroundings, dancing alone in your living room fuelled by joy, laughing with Thai women as you try to explain that you just want some veggie fried rice, crying to a stranger because all you need is a SIM card but you can’t speak Thai, crying on long train rides, crying after receiving some mail from home, crying for no reason, feeling lost, lonely, overwhelmed, but fulfilled, loved, and whole.
Let yourself feel wholeheartedly. Feel with your fingers and your toes. Feel with your senses. Let the aromas of lime, fish sauce, and chilis travel through your whole being. Let the smell of sewage prompt an expression of disgust as you watch the rats scrounge for snacks on an evening walk home. Listen to the locals conversing in a language that you can’t understand, but allow their laugher to evoke feelings of connection and love with fellow humans. Let the humidity envelop your entire body as you sweat every last ounce of moisture contained in you. Appreciate the fresh air on your bus ride blowing through your hair until you remember that you’re actually breathing in car fumes and c02. Cherish the soft and gentle neighbourhood cats and dogs that let you pet them to fill your void of loneliness.
Feel the struggles of the grassroots communities that you might be working alongside and with. Feel their strength, their passion, and their resistance. Feel, and reciprocate, the love of those who take the effort to escort you to your accommodation to make sure you get their safely, introduce you to a new and unfamiliar snack, take you for a walk to see the mangroves, and eat with you. My friends, cherish those who cook for you, who, through their labour and love, nourish every bone and muscle in your body. Admire the smiles and company of those who eat with you, including the dogs that sit by your feet waiting for pets.
Express gratitude for every sun ray, every drop of sweat, every new friend, every bite, every step into an unfamiliar place. Let your feels be genuine, complete, and unfettered.
There will be a moment when you’ll remember that it’ll all be over soon. Maybe that moment will happen every day. Maybe it won’t hit you until the last month. Maybe, when it hits you, you’ll be falling asleep, pondering on a train, or laughing with some new friends. Maybe, like me, you’ll be eating your som tam and khao pad pak for dinner at a local market, and you’ll take a moment to gently observe and appreciate your surroundings. You’ll see the vendors spinning rubber bands around plastic bags to seal portions of curry, soup, and meat. You’ll be amazed at how efficiently and smoothly they close every bag and seal the air so tightly in each one. You’ll take a look around to each of the beautiful faces that have fed you every day after work or before a night out. You’ll smell the aromas of Thai food, which you know you’ll miss so much. You’ll miss it all. You’ll miss the women cooking. You’ll miss the smells. You’ll miss the plastic bags and the rubber bands. You’ll even miss the one ply tissue paper that you use to blow your nose while your lips burn from the chilis in the som tam. You might even miss the wobbly chairs and tables where you enjoy your nomz.
Dear future intern: you’ll have days where you’ll just want it to be over, days where you’re lonely, sweaty, and homesick. You’ll also have days where you feel utmost gratitude for the opportunity to learn, reflect, and grow. Through all of this, remember what it means to be a privileged body from the Global North immersed in a space in the Global South. Remember that you have the the mobility to leave. It might be heartbreaking when you do, but it’s a privilege. Ask yourself what it means to have access to particular spaces that grassroots women don’t have access to, what it means to embody language, country, and class privilege. How can you learn from, laugh with, and feel with the people you meet without reproducing colonial power relations premised on extraction: the extraction of knowledge and local cultures. Above all, remember that despite the borders, languages, and experiences that render us different, we all laugh, love, struggle, and cry.
Immerse yourself in every second and don’t let the cheap and unlimited 4g consume you (like it did me). Trust yourself, trust the process, and remember to cry if you need to.