Hello, future intern!

I’ve been home in the Pacific Northwest for two weeks, and I’m going through the strange motions of greeting familiar sights with new eyes. It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around being back on the island and start to really integrate the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve changed into my life here. So, here I am, writing to you, still a-tilt and a-whirl.

If you’ve clicked on this blog post, chances are you’ve been accepted to the CAPI international internship program. Just like I did last April, you’re sifting through past interns’ posts, hoping to get a sense of what to expect and how to prepare yourself for your placement.

I have only two things to say to you today, but I’m going to say a lot about each of them:

  1. Be prepared, but not over-prepared. Work on being open, receptive, and gentle.
  2. This internship is an incredible experience, and it’s worth taking time off the hamster wheel.
Accepting a gift and certificate from KSDC Principal Khu Myar Reh at my farewell party!

My first piece of advice: balance being prepared with being receptive. Each person’s experience on a CAPI placement is their own. No matter how much you try to prepare, you’re certain to have unexpected moments. Cultivate your capacity to just be, and feel things out when you arrive. If anything, I’d try to avoid building up expectations and over-preparing (and over-packing!). Instead, focus on doing some un-learning. Reflect on your time at university. Reflect on your life. Think about how you may be culturally conditioned, and what kinds of interactions, energies, and dynamics might be baked into your persona. Unclench, take a breath, and work on opening your eyes and ears. Try to show up without hang-ups about how things should be, and instead open yourself to learning, really observing, how things are in the new and different place you’ll find yourself in.

If you’ve been selected as a CAPI intern, you’re about to embark on a daunting, exhilarating, unique, and wonderful work placement. My second piece of advice is this: it may be uncomfortable at times, but it’s worth it. When I was getting ready to leave, I had a lot of fears. Some fears were topical. Would the heat be unbearable? Are there crazy-big spiders? Some fears were deeper. Would I get sick? Would I be homesick and lonely? Would the language barrier be isolating? Would my white, Canadian identity be a barrier? What if I took six months away and came back to find that life has moved on around me, leaving me lost and struggling?

Well, the temperature was difficult to bear, there were enormous spiders, I came down with a couple nasty and unfamiliar viruses, and I had to be aware of my privilege in ways that challenged me to be a better person.

On the other side of these challenges was growth. My body acclimated to the heat and humidity, I got over my squeamishness around large insects, I recovered from my bouts of flu, and the distance from home made me more mindful of and grateful for the relationships I have here. One of the greatest benefits of the KSDC placement is that you don’t have to grapple with feelings of loneliness and isolation the way that some folks on urban placements may. You’re dropped right into a welcoming, loving community and all you need to do is meet that energy with respect, openness and authenticity to be accepted, to make friends and to be brought in to sports games, dance parties, community gatherings, and mealtimes. Some folks speak fluent English, many students enjoy practicing their English language skills (and are happy to teach you some Karenni, too!) and it was refreshing to sometimes lean into non-verbal communication and just spend time with people without extensive, conventional conversation.

Most importantly, in Thailand I learned a lot about my own identity and how I want to be in this world, with all its injustices and inequities, and to relate to others in the global community. Unrestricted mobility, because of my Canadian passport, and unearned social standing, because of my teaching position, were aspects of my privilege that I thought a lot about, and I encourage you to as well, future intern. Living and working with people who have experienced violence, displacement, and loss, and who are working at the grassroots against a brutal military regime, is not a light undertaking. You’ll need to exercise empathy, patience, and solidarity. Now that I’m home, I just don’t see things the same way, and I think that the experience I had in Thailand will help me decolonize both my day-to-day ways of relating to community, my worldview, and my professional practice moving forward.

All in all, I can’t tell you how well worth it it was to take some time out of the high-frequency smorgasbord of university life. Everything will be where you left it when you come home, but you’ll have changed for the better. You’ll be more humble, more resilient, and better prepared to move through your life informed by a multicultural perspective – so long as, while you’re away, you listen and engage. The connections you’ll make will also stay with you. I miss the staff, the students, the friends I made in the wider community, and our office cats Tina and Abu all the time. I look forward to figuring out how to stay in connection and solidarity with the Karenni community from afar.

I hope you will have as great an experience I did, and you’re always welcome to reach out to me if you want questions answered, or just to chat. The space outside your comfort zone is where you’ll do the most growing. To quote my friend Bu Reh, “if you want to catch a big fish, you’ve got to do it in the sea”. All my best as you dive into this life-changing chapter.