Summaries appear in several ways, though they always depend on the situation. For this internship, they can be formal, shaped into final reports and reflections both written and spoken that are shared with supervisors and professors. As I’ve found with family members, the summary is often confined to a few sentences that use far too many blanket statements. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll have an attentive audience, maybe of one person or more, that will look at you in the eye and ask you thoughtful questions about the whole experience. So far, I haven’t been that lucky. Even though it’s not an unfamiliar reality for me, having gone and worked abroad several times now, I still sometimes wish that I could share my experiences in more detail without sounding pretentious or imposing.
So perhaps within this medium, and an anonymous audience I don’t know is reading or not, I attempt once more to summarize my internship experience in my own way. Although, is it cliché by now to include a “final thoughts” post? Having worked on the final report and final reflection for the internship (which are required assignments), I almost feel reflection-empty. But it’s been a week since I’ve landed in the US, and the timing seems too fitting for a reflection post. I think I’ll take a page from fellow IEDP interns Ryan and Ania and respond to five statements:
- One thing you didn’t expect to do
- One thing you expected to do but haven’t done yet
- One meaningful person during your stay and why
- One piece of advice for a future intern
- Fun/embarrassing/humbling moment
Well, here it goes.
One thing I didn’t expect to do
I didn’t expect these three months to be so reflective. I spent a significant amount of time, mostly outside of the office, thinking about, well, all sorts of things, concurrently supplementing these thoughts with a variety of articles, books, and discussions which presented different ideas that I tried to synthesize into a worldview. Though nothing existential crisis-y occurred here, I did find myself pondering some deep topics.
One thing I expected to do but haven’t done
When I learned that I was going to Cambodia for my internship, I wanted to at least develop some basics of Khmer. That didn’t really happen. I had set this as a goal and mentioned how motivated I was early on in the internship, but I never did advance beyond greetings, numbers, and a few random words here and there. I take full responsibility for that. Maybe I had unconsciously weighed the pros against the cons and found the usefulness not enough, which makes sense considering the amount of time I was spending there and the reality that I wasn’t going to be able to use it more productively for work. I am disappointed in myself though, for my lack of effort.
One meaningful person during my stay and why
Hm. It’s hard to determine this one, because I really did enjoy the company of my colleagues at AAC, and I managed to meet some pretty cool people outside of work as well. If pressed, I would probably choose the Head of Programme at AAC, for having little conversations with me in the morning as we first got into the office. We’d talk about politics, health care, culture and traditions, and many other topics for a little while as we settled in, and I think what makes him a meaningful person during my stay was his effort to make a welcoming environment for me and his willingness to engage with me in these discussions, even when they sometimes became sensitive (e.g. when we discussed Cambodia’s political environment). I truly enjoyed them whenever they spontaneously occurred, and he helped make me feel comfortable in the office.
One piece of advice for a future intern
Connect, network, reach out. I already wrote about this in another post, but I can’t emphasize it enough. If it’s within the organization or beyond it, seek out people who are working on topics related to your internship or that you’re interested in. People are willing to talk about their experiences and knowledge and you can learn from them. I also didn’t expect to speak to so many people during my time both in France and Cambodia, but I’m thrilled that I did.
Fun moment: Riding on the motorbike while on the field visit to Koh Kong. Up until that point, I’d been feeling down in the congested city and didn’t realize how much I craved to be in nature, so riding between our partner organizations and the schools we visited was definitely a welcome and exciting opportunity.
Embarrassing moment: Every day before I left the office in the evening, I would lock up my work laptop in a cabinet next to my desk and take the key home with me. Only occasionally would I bring my laptop back to my apartment to work. If you can guess the progression of the story, I forgot the key one day in October (read: well into my internship). Imagine the agitation! Even though I adapted and went to work analyzing a printed document, I was pretty embarrassed for the rest of the morning until I could rush home during my lunch break and grab it. Being sweaty upon my return didn’t help me feel any better.
Humbling moment: Going to the first Nerd Night back in August and seeing how painfully segregated the expat community in Phnom Penh is to the rest of the town’s inhabitants. It reminded me of my positionality and brought to life the discussions my classmates and I had had during the school year. I’m grateful for the recall, because sometimes I get into periods of complacency when I should instead be more alert to what privileges I carry with me, especially as I work in the development field.
As I look for a job and work on some projects since my return to the states, I now have very fond memories of my time in Cambodia working with AAC. For that, and everything else I haven’t mentioned, I am grateful.