Dear Future Intern,
First of all, congratulations on securing this incredibly unique experience. To even consider joining the CAPI program clearly shows that you are the type of person who yearns to engage with the world and push beyond your comfort zone. But to be accepted, probably means you are doing it for the right reasons.
However, I hope you understand the responsibility this opportunity comes with. You are the current custodians for this program. How you show up and participate in your internship may impact the possibility for future interns and the continuation of the program itself.
But don’t let this frighten you, instead let it galvanize you. This internship will be something you will cherish for the rest of your life. You’ll look back fondly on all the trials and tribulations, as much as all the moments of bliss. Honestly, the difficult moments will likely have more of an impact.
You are undoubtedly a little nervous about your upcoming internship, so here are some things to keep in mind during your time.
First things first…
Journal. I didn’t really do it. I wish I had. It would have made all the blogs and critical reflections much easier. So much is going on that unless you reflect continuously, you will struggle to distill your thoughts into a straight narrative. Plus, it will be such a joy to look back on your experience later in life, I am sure.
Do some research on the country’s history before exploring. Before coming to Indonesia I read A Brief History of Indonesia by Tim Hannigan. Although it was hardly exhaustive, it gave me a great overview of Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage and allowed me to fully appreciate the landmarks I would later visit. If I visited any temples where I had no historical context, I found I grew ‘bored’ much faster. Compare this to my experience at Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, where I climbed the high steps into an empty chamber to meditate and was tapped on the head with water – during the middle of an intense dry season! It seems like a ‘no-brainer’ suggestion but it’s hard to find the time to research these things when you are there.
Art is a wonderful peephole into the culture. For me personally, art is a saving grace. I’ve sort of known this about myself, but I only grasped the significance in Indonesia. I would use art to ground me and bring me back to the reasons why I sort out this intern experience in the first place. What I wanted most from the CAPI program was to immerse myself into a foreign culture. Art is a gateway. And whenever I felt like I was falling on poor habits or straying from my purpose, I could seek out some artistic endeavour or a local custom (usually a dance or ceremony) that would recalibrate me. Also its just fun and something to do that you won’t forget!
Get a bird’s eye view of your organization as quickly as possible. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will know that I struggled to find my place at my host organization. No doubt, there is a lot to be said with leaving yourself open for opportunities. You will need to stay open to what is asked of you and not be fixated on your own ambitions. But I think you will get the most out of your internship if you understand what your host organization’s needs are and what possibilities exist for there. So ask your manager to give you a full debrief, ask other employees to articulate the organization in their own words. And if you are the sole “staff member” (which happens) take the time in the first month to figure it out on your own. It is imperative that you do this in the first month, because you might not have the energy to do it down the road, and it may be too late when you do.
Prepare for your expectations of your host country to be SO WRONG! I wonder if you have watched the TedTalk discussion “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngoni Adichie yet. If you have, or if you do, it’ll come back to your mind time and time again. All the suggested readings during orientation are helpful (in fact, here is a sub tip Read all the pre-orientation content). However, this TedTalk was the one I reflected on the most. I had many thoughts about Indonesia when I was there, some good, some bad, almost all massive generalizations. To this day, I wouldn’t be able to distill Indonesia down into a unifying concept (if that is even possible). It changed my perceptions of poverty, of affluence, of Islam, of Hinduism, of religion itself, of human nature for that matter. So just be ready to be wrong.
Don’t underestimate the challenges. You will go through this during orientation week, and you will likely shrug it off. After all, you are a tough cookie. You’ve travelled before or you know yourself or you are older or whatever. But guess what, things you never imagined will come and smack you in the face. Don’t underestimate what may come. You may get drastically sick and question how much of it you can take. I had $8k taken out of my bank account in my final month! Shit happens! But you signed up for this so that you’d become a better, stronger person by the end.
Observe how you spend your money – it will teach you a lot about yourself. My first week in Indonesia, was the one of the most unstable. Nervous about the general safety of my new neighbourhood, that first week I spent a lot of time stopping in shops or cafes. I was actually going from one cafe to another (drinking far too much coffee), just using them as places to sit down. Inevitably, I was spending tons of money, and I was shocked to notice how much garbage I had collected in that first week. It was the garbage that woke me up to what was going on. Now Jakarta doesn’t have many public parks and certainly no park benches, so I would have to use malls or warungs or coffee shops to people watch. I was using the shops to create a reprieve from the hustle and bustle that was scaring me. Very interesting. When I thought about it, I realized that we kind of do this back home to. We spend money or we consume just as something to do, to fulfill a void or compensate for a certain feeling. As someone studying economics, this was a pretty fascinating realization for me.
Visit other interns during your visa runs. Due to the nature of your internship and the length of your stay, you will likely have to leave your host country to make multiple visa runs. If you are lucky you can time it to meet up with the other interns during their visa runs, or visit them in their host country. Not only will you get a neat tour guide, you’ll have a peer who can relate to your own experience much better than those at home. Visiting Brigette and Faaiza (unfortunately, I missed Kelly when I was in Thailand) were some of the more memorable experiences from my time away.
There are two event horizons. One of these horizons is you arriving at placement and the other (you’ve guessed it) is when you leave. Like black holes the closer you approach the event horizon time becomes more relative. Unlike black holes, time gets faster. Right now, you are somewhere between applying for the internship, having just been accepted, or in the middle of orientation week. If you are closer to your leaving date, you must be noticing how fast things are moving. 3-5 days of orientation, which sounded like a slog has flown by. As have your exams, and your final goodbyes. Family and friends are constantly asking you if you are nervous, but it’s shocking how little you’ve had chance to ponder it – you’re just too busy. Well, the same thing will happen when it comes to leaving. That first month might feel like it takes a long time. Everything is brand new, exciting – yes – but also quite nerve-racking. Days full of disorientation tend to linger, and the first month will have you torn between “wow, one month already” and “I feel like I have been here for six years!”. But sadly, as the more comfortable you get and the more you start to flow the rhythm of life, the faster life moves as it reaches shore. After three months, you’ll really start to notice it, “Half-way point…Two months left…One month!” So have fun. Take advantage of your new found skills and get out there. Know that time will push you closer and closer to that event horizon, and all you can do is try and ride the wave, baby!
Best of luck,
CAPI Intern 2023