A capital internship

So, where does an International Educational Development intern go for his global internship; Washington DC, obviously. The seat of the US government, the city with crazy traffic and an even crazier assortment of non-profits. But my non-profit (not that I own it or anything) is particularly special. It is called ‘World Learning’ and amongst its many contributions to the world is its summer homestay study abroad program, which it pioneered a whopping 85 years ago (it is still going on pretty strong, though). Fun fact: the first head of Peace Corps was a World Learning alum.

So, how did I get here? It all started with an interview with Lois Scott-Conley – Education Advisor for Curriculum and Training at World Learning. The interview was a friendly affair with the most memorable line coming from Lois to the tune of “So, how many other internship offers do you have”? My answer was a sly “I am considering my options”. Obviously, they had no idea about the vagaries of the IEDP internship process as this was their first time getting a Penn intern. The bluff worked and three hours later I had an internship offer from World Learning!

I was also lucky to get a scope of work document which included exotic projects such as madrassas in Afghanistan, English clubs in Nigeria and an English-for-the-Workplace program in Pakistan. It was a nice read.

It begins!

My supervisors were to be Lois and an English professor-turned-nonprofit-manager, Kara McBride, who is World Learning’s Senior Education Specialist. Lois is Vermont-based, Kara sits in the DC office.

We set up an orientation meeting for May 7th, as after that my supervisors were to be out of country for almost a month and a half due to work and / or vacations. Come in for the orientation now, they said, and you can start later.

The first thing that struck me at ‘World Learning’ was how diverse the office was. Everything from the posters on the walls to the people in the office cubicles staring back were an ensemble of faces from what seemed like the entire globe. World, check. I don’t think I have ever seen an office that is so diverse. A couple of “assalam o alaikums” later I was already feeling very welcome, indeed.

I have also been lucky to be blessed with an extremely caring supervisor (Kara, I hope you are reading this). But, on a serious note, Kara has been / still is an amazing supervisor to work with. You ask why not Lois, the other supervisor? Well, you shall find out in a bit, and, no, there are no nasty incidents to report.

The orientation meeting ended with me being tasked with a month’s load of annotated bibliographies to write. For those wondering, as I was for the next few days, what an annotated bibliography is, here is what I found out: you search lots of journal articles, you read lots of journal articles, you create a reference for each of the articles, and then you write a small summary of the article to go with the reference. And here I was thinking that my days spent reading long, boring scholarly articles were behind me!

Tending babies and assisting development work

And so, off I went back to Philadelphia after the orientation day (There is no reason to come to the office without a supervisor, she said. Thank you, I said.) while Kara went off on a world tour.

The next few weeks were a flurry of journal articles and Zotero (which is an amazing tool for references), mostly worked on with a (crying) baby in one hand and my laptop in the other. Work-from-home should be rephrased work-while-running-a-home.

Work from home with babies
“No, no, I am available. So, what do you want me to work on?” (Courtesy: Shutterstock)

Eventually, a few weeks later, I started commuting to World Learning on a weekly basis as the housing in DC was out of reach for yours truly. A shout-out to Airbnb for making this internship possible.

My second day (physically) at the internship was a further insight into what makes World Learning so special. The occasion was saying good bye to four employees. (I thought you were going to tell a happy story, you inquire quizzically. Hold on, I reply.) One had finished her OPT, one was going to Harvard (some university on the East coast, they told me) and the others were moving on to other work opportunities. But the entire affair was a jolly one, with everyone wishing the departees the best of luck. But here is the kicker! Suddenly, Lois Scott-Conley, the one of the initial interview, made an appearance via Skype from Vermont. And then she led the entire department into (custom written) songs she had written for each of the departing colleagues. I have never witnessed something so wacky that is also simultaneously so warm and good-natured. That was the second, as well as the last time, I heard of Lois (apparently, she had interns in Vermont helping her out and Kara had lots of work to dish out).

The great American outdoors

Almost as much fun as the internship were my drives between DC and Philadelphia. Being a penny pincher, I would avoid highway tolls by taking (multiple) smaller routes and the scenery was breathtaking at times. Olzhas Sakenov was along on one such occasion as we drove on the Susquehanna River bridge, with a bald eagle low-flying near our car (bromance at its best). It was the most National Geographic moment of my life. God has blessed the US with amazing natural beauty. Not a single drive goes by where I don’t feel the urge to just stop my car and soak the scenery in. (Moments later, I think about how people might not be too keen on spotting someone who looks like me gazing at their farmland and I quietly drive on.) But really, the American outdoors is simply magnificent. This will be a permanent feature of my blogs.

Talha and Olzhas

So, from near the Capital Hill, this is me signing off until next time.

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