Dear Future Intern,
Hello from Sapa, Vietnam! It’s been one month since I left Malaysia. Seven months since I embarked on the experience. And one month until I return to Canada. And I can’t lie: I’m confused. I found a family with MSRI. And when you find something so special, it’s hard to leave. But more than that, it’s hard to put something so special into words. In writing and in speaking. I think in some ways, when you deeply resonate with an experience, you also enter an isolation of sorts. But it is a beautiful isolation. One worth holding onto until I can find the words to properly express how I feel.
With that, I really don’t know what your internship will mean to you. But in any regard, I can tell you that it will mean a lot.
I’ve spent the last few years wandering around, rather aimlessly, wondering if my time is spent well. Trying, and often getting distracted along the way, to put my time into things that matter.
Things that matter. I still don’t really know what such a thought can mean. But, when I stumbled upon the flyer for a CAPI internship in Southeast Asia in the basement of the McPherson library, I thought, you know, this could be worth my time.
And it doesn’t matter who you are, it will be worth your time too. So if you’ve come here to find some clarity on whether you should take a chance on this experience, the answer is yes.
You don’t have to be the perfect student. You don’t have to be a practiced and proven leader, and you don’t have to be a spontaneous adventurer ready to uproot everything at a moment’s notice. No, this position doesn’t discriminate. If you think this experience is something that would be good for you, then it is for you. You just have to be the version of yourself who is willing to listen, learn, observe, and try. And we all, with a little personal agency, can be this version of ourselves.
Last summer, I took a field course where one of my friends said, “Not everything we do here is fun, but it is always good.” This, as it turns out, became a statement that means quite a lot to me. I think, when you can say this about your time, you’re putting your time into things that matter. Ah, there it is. Things that matter. The past six months were not the most fun six months of my life. But I think, in hindsight, they will be some of the most important. The most meaningful.
By taking this opportunity, you might be delaying your degree. You might miss out on all the fun you can have in Victoria. You might “fall behind” in some arbitrarily drawn out path for your life. But please, don’t underestimate the opportunity in front of you. This is an incredible opportunity. So incredible, in fact, that I’m still trying to comprehend what I’ve just been through.
I don’t want to tell you much about what my internship was like because yours won’t be the same. Nor should it be. It might surprise you what you have to offer. But even more, it will surprise you what you walk away with. And I can’t prepare you for that in a letter. Don’t get too caught up trying to understand what your role might be or what tasks you’ll be given. Find comfort in the knowledge that you are walking into an organization whose mission it is to care. MSRI is a special place. Soon enough, you’ll know. And trust me, it will be worth your time.
In those six months, I spent a lot of time writing. Each new entry was filled with new insecurities, new appreciations, new stories, new feelings—new, new, and new. And to its core, that’s what this experience will be: new languages, new cultures, new food, new feelings, new conversations, etc., etc. It will excite you. It will challenge you. It will make you question. Writing helped me to relate my reflections and experiences as well as find grounding in all that I felt. What feels big in the moment (good or bad) is what will drive you forward on your way home. Trust me, the insecurities and challenges you face are simply growth trying to fool you into doubting yourself. Persevere, but let it happen. It’s okay. We all went through it too. Here is a section of my journal entry from the day before I started:
“Tomorrow is my first day of work! For the past few days, my nerves have outweighed my excitement. There are a couple things on my mind: I’ve never worked full-time at the same place for six months in a row before, not anything close; I don’t know anything about the cultural customs or traditions here; and I don’t understand the histories of the refugee crisis in Palestine or other areas of the Middle East. Inside MSRI, there were lots of posters making references to things I don’t understand. There is going to be a big learning curve here. But on the bright side, I want to learn all of it. I just hope I can do it graciously.”
It’s funny how I went from that to tears streaming down my face as I said goodbye to MSRI. You haven’t a clue the way an experience will impact you. You just haven’t a clue. Not until after the fact. So please, listen when I say not to underestimate the opportunity in front of you. You can’t know it yet, but it might be exactly what you need.
Since finishing the internship, I’ve been wandering aimlessly around again. This time in Southeast Asia. People keep telling me how calm and comfortable I am. How I speak slowly and think before I talk. I even had two Dutch girls tell me that if I made a podcast, they would listen to it to help them fall asleep. Is that a compliment? Haven’t a clue. And I can’t remember if I was always like this, but I guess then my advice to you would just be to try to find comfort in your discomfort. Try big things, take chances, reach outside of your comfort zone, but don’t worry when things feel hard. Take it easy on yourself. Time will move forward. You will continue to learn, grow, and change. It’s not on you to be the one person who finds this experience easy. It’s not. It’s hard. But, it’s good. It’s meaningful. It’s worth your time.
Take the chance! And keep your own journal!!
All the best,