Dear future intern,

Welcome! Take a deep deep breath in through your nose, expanding your lungs fully (imagine your brain cells getting oxygenated and your red blood cells delivering hemoglobin all over your body), hold it for 5 seconds, and then exhaling through your mouth, let it go. I wish somebody told me to breathe more before I left.

Every breath is a struggle at 43 degrees Celsius in Gurugram, Haryana, India.

Sitting down to write you this letter (fingers to keyboard) feels like what a mother of six children with a messy house/social life/marriage/bun must feel like when she is trying to sit down and write a fool-proof “Parent-Tested, Parent-Approved” blogpost on “what to expect when you’re expecting”. None of the aforementioned is me (except for the messy bun). But I strongly believe my past cross-cultural experiences and (nearly) 3 decades of life, as a womxn with blended (true/untrue) identities of Chinese-Hong Kong-Canadian-Christian who has spent the last ten years living within Indigenous and Northern communities, have prepared me for the 6 months I spent in New Delhi, India, with the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and then a personal 3-week solo trek through the Himalayas in Nepal.

Some tourists waiting in line for public washrooms adjacent to an open food court.

While I have lots to say to you, I also want to simply say: if you are one of the chosen, remember your training and remember the force is with you. Simply stated… but less cryptically speaking, if CAPI selects you as one of the 2020 interns, your pre-departure training and your character, personality, humanity, and internal values & beliefs will ultimately be what guides you, be it in a negative or positive direction, as you venture into a place vastly different, or surprisingly similar, to your identified “home”.

We are a really good bunch. Not a single bad apple.

So here are a few things I found immensely helpful before, during, and after my internship to attune my internal voice (i.e. align my internal values & beliefs):

  1. Pre-departure Training and your Social Location is critical
    • Your orientation session is when you will be given lots of readings, reflection activities, and opportunities to bond with other interns. USE THIS TIME. The insights you gain from this time will be added to your “survival kit & toolbox” in which you will most definitely utilize over the months/years. Also, your internship cohort will provide you with comfort and support during the internship (in my cohort, many of us were on our own and worked far away from other interns. Before we left for the field, we formed a facebook group to post daily laughs/stories/challenges. You will need the online support).
    • If you have not reflected on your social location and your power and privileges, GET TO KNOW IT NOW. Otherwise, you will cause a lot of harm to yourself and others. Even if you’re not going abroad, get to know how you are currently holding power over others RIGHT NOW in your community.

2. Decolonize your whiteness or Western/Euro-centric ways of thinking (your dominance over other cultures came at a cost and it is actually NOT the most common/popular/most right way of thinking and living in the world)

  • You are most likely travelling to a non-European country and culture (I think the “Asia-Pacific” in Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, aka CAPI, confirms that statement). So whether you are White, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour), LGBTQ-2S, or other identifying… if you have grown up, or grown up with people who have grown up, in Canada, America, a European country, or in any community that embodies whiteness, colonialism, and Western ways of knowing, THIS APPLIES TO YOU. See the Indigenous Ally Toolkit as a helpful tool to see how and where you occupy space.
  • You are entering a different community, somebody’s home, with an invitation. Leave your judgements, high-maintenance entitlements, and outdoor shoes at the door. Clean your feet, put on warm slippers, and be prepared to see and taste something you haven’t seen nor tasted before.

3. You are what you eat. Try as many different things as possible, as per what your gastrointestinal tract would allow. Just like how babies generally need approximately x16 attempts at a new food before they decide if they like it or not, TRY IT and then TRY IT AGAIN.

  • Food and culture is intimately connected. There is probably scientific research data on it, but I will say this conclusively as empirical evidence from my lived experiences. I grew up eating “Indian” food in Canada thinking I knew “Indian food”. But it wasn’t until I lived and experienced Indian food did I know what it was (e.g. I used to associate naan bread with Indian food, however, “naan” is actually a Persian word. And I didn’t have a single piece of “naan” while in India. Instead I had a lot of roti, paratha, dosa, idli, etc.). Indian food and people are as diverse as the different nations represented in Canada. India is so diverse that cultures between two states is almost as different as cultures between two countries.
  • In other words, if you want to become part of people (obviously without cultural appropriation. Again, social location and active examination of your own power & privileges is key, it is the antidote to appropriation), then EAT THE FOOD.

4. A clean pair of underwear goes a long way + PERSONAL CARE

  • I am one of the most adaptable people you will meet. I can survive in the bush or the wilderness, and pretty much any chaotic city for days/weeks/months. But one thing I prioritize is personal hygiene down in the “nether regions”. Personal care is of utmost value and importance when you are trying to build a routine life in a country that is non-routine to you. And that applies to mental health, emotional wellbeing, physical health, and spiritual wellbeing. DO NOT neglect it.
  • Find the simple pleasures and simple comforts that make a world of difference to you (mine is clean underwear).

Finally, I’m sure the other interns have covered things I have not mentioned. Your experience abroad is going to test and challenge everything you know and thought you knew of yourself and the world around you. In the end, you only have yourself to be accountable to. So be honest with yourself. Know your perfections and imperfections and be prepared to pull up your socks to make up for the imperfections, yet be humbled for your perfections.

Call me, email me, take me out for coffee if you want to hear more!