Dear future intern,
First of all: congratulations!
Congratulations on taking the first step down what will be a life-changing path!
You’re probably feeling all sorts of emotions – excitement, anticipation, wonder, nerves, fear, etc – and all of them are valid. Having been in your shoes not even one year ago, I remember swinging between feeling either overwhelmingly stoked about the adventures and possibilities ahead, or overwhelmingly nervous about all the things that could go wrong and all of the unfamiliarity I was about to subject myself to.
I’m a massive creature of comfort; I love re-watching movies that I’ve seen dozens of times because I always find comfort in knowing how the story goes. And when I go back to a restaurant I’ve already tried, I like to order the same food every time because I know that I’ll enjoy it. Writing that down, I’m realizing that I probably sound like the most boring and lame person around, but I really take comfort in the known.
And now, future intern, you’re probably wondering why I’d want to apply for such an experience, one that promised to bring a healthy amount of unknowns and some significant discomforts. This Quest of Unfamiliarity (better known as: “the internship”) was one that I knew would be fraught with challenges. But it was also one that I think I needed to pursue in order to get out of my little bubble of comfort and leave the hamster wheel of life that’s so normalized in Western countries: go to school, start your career, marry someone nice, get a dog, buy a house, have some babies, work for a while, and live out your retirement. In a way, doing the internship gave me a really good chance to take a break from this cycle and gain some perspective on my trajectory. I had time to step out of my life in Canada and evaluate the things that I’d thought were important to me.
Now that I’ve had a couple of months to process and reflect upon my time living and working in Malaysia, I’ve realized just how positively life-changing the experience was. I grew in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed in Canada. I gained perspective not just on myself and my life, but on the way that we Westerners navigate success. While I did find the experience pretty isolating – especially at the beginning – it also forced me to learn how to be alone with my thoughts and depend on myself rather than others to tackle hardships.
I can promise you this: the hard times will eventually get better. This is something I remember reading in past intern’s blogs, and something that I found to be so immensely comforting. Reading the words of strangers who’d written about their struggles with the same feelings that I was now feeling, whether they’d gone through it three or four or five years earlier, gave me some strength. Leaning on their words and trusting their promises that the discomfort passes really helped me to keep pushing through.
So, my dear future intern, while I hope you don’t have too hard a time adjusting to and navigating your new life, if you find yourself struggling a bit with the discomfort or loneliness or with the complete unfamiliarity, just remember that it won’t last forever.
Six months away from home, navigating a foreign culture and environment and integrating yourself into a completely unknown community is really, really tough. There were even a few times when I’d convinced myself that I’d be better off giving up and moving back to Canada, tail between my legs. While it’s good and healthy to sit in the tough times, just know that you’ll eventually find ways to navigate these problems and learn tools to ensure your own happiness. You’ll feel stronger being able to get through the hardships on your own, worlds away from home. You’ll return with a greater understanding of yourself and the way that you walk through the world.
Looking back on my life one year ago, I would not have imagined that the next year of my life could ever have gone the way that it did. The internship gave me an incredible chance to experience a plethora of life-changing opportunities, and my life was indeed changed during my time there. Not only was I able to learn about new cultures, religions, foods, people, politics, opinions, and experiences, but I was – perhaps more importantly – able to navigate those lessons through months of experiential learning. This provided the most significant source of personal changes: being able to live and work alongside those in the community that I was learning from.
At risk of sounding like a cliché travel blogger, my time living and working in Malaysia was truly life-altering. It gave me the chance to learn about new cultures, to live and work for an extended period of time in a Muslim-dominant community, to eat unfamiliar foods, to work alongside refugees and Malaysians, and to create cross-cultural friendships and professional connections that I hope will last for years to come. I also had time for reflection. Time to step away from my life, so to speak. I understand now how fortunate I was to be able to do that, and I hope you’re able to use your time away to do that, too.
The feelings of excitement and nervousness are feelings that all of us past interns have felt at some point or another. And from one intern to another, I leave you with some words of wisdom. Lean into it. Be intentional with reflecting on why you’re struggling. Really think about the things that bring you comfort, and how you can adjust those to your new life. Make friends in your new community; put effort into this and you’ll likely leave with lifelong pals. At the same time, know that it’s ok to be alone, and that it’ll start to feel less lonely as you learn how to walk this new path by yourself. Eat everything you can, even if you don’t think you’ll like it. Enjoy yourself, and say yes to every single opportunity that you can, even when you’re tired or in a bad mood. And lean on your community through the hardships. Your time there will fly by, and you’ll find yourself looking back with longing.
So go, enjoy your experience, eat some really good food, work hard, and have fun!