Hey future intern! Long time no blog post (my bad). Let’s dive in!

I have been back in Canada for almost a month, and what a month it’s been. During the last two weeks of my internship in Sabah, my big brother Owen flew from Australia to meet me in Kota Kinabalu. It had been over 13 months since we had seen each other and was a very welcome visit.

I was able to bring my brother on a village trip to Kalampung where he got to meet Rofina, Regia, and Rickland – three people I worked very closely with during my work on the Verticle University Pilot Project. He also got to meet and stay with the family who lives beside the Community Learning Centre (CLC). Sharing the experience of living in community, eating traditional foods, and participating in community activities like harvesting bamboo, foraging fruits and veg, and being taught to weave in Kalampung’s traditional style by a village elder brought a new kind of joy to village life. Owen ate durian, and snake fruit, drank coconut rice wine, learned to count to three (satu, dua, tiga), met the children at the CLC, and tried really hard to get crafty (bless him).

My last day as an intern for the DAP Service Centre and PACOS Trust also happened to be Jannie’s birthday! After speeches, cutting our joint birthday/farewell cake, and a quick makan with Jannie and Owen, I gave my presentation. I spoke about the work I did, the impact this experience had on me, the incredible people I’ve met, I gave my thanks, and I cried on my goodbye. I was a little surprised when the team went in a circle to say their goodbyes. Individually. Meaningfully. Almost gut-wrenchingly. Full of love.

“Thank you for being my friend.”
“I hope you were happy here.”
“Next time my English will be better.”
“Don’t forget us.”
“I love you.”

I’ve never been good at goodbyes (is anyone? Yeah. Malaysians are. Malaysians are the best at goodbyes). I’ve always been most comfortable skipping goodbyes or ripping them off like a band-aid on shaved legs. If I were to write a love letter to Sabah I’d use blue ink on white paper. I’d use a red envelope. I’d address it to N25 Kapayan. I’d make sure to say “I love you” and “Thank you for being my friend, I’ll never forget you.”

It’s taken me well over a month to even attempt to write this blog. How shall I talk about this experience? Words aren’t nearly enough. I’d have to show you. You’d have to see it.

Coming “home” has been a kick in the neck. I’ve always had something that comes next, you know? There’s no next. Coming home meant a bunch of definitive ends, and learning to be okay with that. It’s probably why I don’t take goodbyes very seriously. Ends aren’t as confronting when they double as the start of a new beginning. No more beginnings for this brooding 23-year-old for a while. Coming home meant an end to my almost year-long travel stint, an end to university and academic life, and (possibly most confronting) an end to living in Victoria. I’m really just trying to get used to letting go and being okay with nothing coming afterward. Being home, although hard at first, has been truly lovely. I spent some serious quality time with my closest friends – I had forgotten how deeply fulfilling my friendships are, and how much I rely on these relationships as support systems.

Following my internship my brother and I flew from Kota Kinabalu to Ho Chi Minh to meet our parents and start our 6-week family trip through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. It was so wonderful to see our parents. I’ll never forget walking into the hotel lobby at the same time my dad was coming out of the elevator. What a sweet love our little nuclear family shares.

Traveling with my parents was a shock to the system for sure. I’d just spent 6-months cultivating a commitment to global citizenship and cultural awareness (and patience) that lent me an understanding of SE Asia that the rest of my family didn’t have the benefit of. It was a difficult switch to how I’d been showing up in the world. Listening to them worry about/be frustrated by a lack of English, be shocked by the smells and pollution, confusion about infrastructure (or lack thereof), or how they spoke down to locals (unintentionally, think of the “speaking to your grandad in an old-folks home voice”). I felt like it set me back. I had to completely re-orient myself from village life to hotel rooms in massive cities, and from serving the community to being served as a white tourist (ugh). Interestingly though, I was also massively proud of my parents for their wherewithal. How well they did with the heat, how adventurous they were with the food. I learned a lot from them as a novice traveler. For example, my dad loves to chat with locals. He was talking to a tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia and asked him to take us on a tour of some local hotspots. We drank beers, toured around, and ate fried frogs, balut, and tarantula (yuk, but also yum. I’ll let you decide which is which).

So, future intern, how shall I leave you?

You are about to embark on the most incredible, hard-to-describe, life-enriching, confronting, difficult, exciting, and beautiful journey you have probably ever had. You are about to make lasting friendships with like-minded and fascinating people. And these relationships will endure. You are going to do good work. Fulfilling work.

This experience will chemically alter you at a cellular level. Forever better for it.

If I can leave with a few pieces of advice:
Take pictures but also take videos! You’ll want to hear those sounds again, you’ll want to hear the voices of those you miss.
Say yes more. Go to the dinner, go for the drinks, go to the parties, sing karaoke (because it is weirder to not sing than to sing poorly), drink rice wine, and let Cyril buy you a Big Mac at 10pm because he wants to make sure you’re fed (and knows that you like Big Macs).
Facilitate your relationships outside of work. Invite co-workers to your house or out for dinner. Cook for your friends and co-workers. Share your culture when you can.
Bring gifts from home before you go! Because lord knows they’ll have gifts for you.
Stay in touch! Don’t forget them.

Remember, interns: Grace, Gut, and Guile.

Best of luck!