For a few moments, take a trip down memory lane with me. Think of a scenic flight you took or the opportunity you had to gaze down at a vista from atop a hill. Remember how perfect everything looked from far away? The straight-lined crop plantations, the flawlessly paved roads, the immaculate green of pine trees, it all looked so perfect. Almost too perfect. And then when you walked down to the actual scene in person, you see the minute imperfections. That patch of cropland isn’t so geometrically faultless anymore, nor are the roads so unblemished. You are hit by the heat or the earthly scent of nature. And yet, and yet, despite the imperfection of it all, you adore it because now it is so much closer to you. You can reach out and feel it, be a part of it.
Such is life, I presume. Things start with perfect beginnings and then somewhere in the middle you begin to see matters more realistically. You may begin to panic at this point. But if that thing is good enough and worth enough to you, you learn to enjoy all that is pleasant and you learn to live with the smudges around the corners.
So why should an internship be any different? It shouldn’t be… and it wasn’t.
I came to World Learning with a blank slate. I was willing to allow the organization to make a first impression by itself. And what a first impression it made! Everything from the cultural diversity to the fact that my supervisor is one of the most amazing and friendly persons I have ever met, made me fall in love with World Learning. Their reach around the globe continues to startle me. And they manage to do it all with such humility that even the Sufi in me is inspired by it.
As for my work, that was not always as inspiring, but that is OK. I had opportunities to do ample research on topics that I was not as familiar with (such as preserving critically endangered indigenous languages in Latin America or why introverts may flourish in online course settings) and even though my scope of work stated it, no one ever asked me to do photocopying for them (honestly, the scope of work document said so!).
As for learning to be in an office (in the US), and learning the ropes and dynamics of development work, I had already been doing the rounds for many years in Pakistan prior to Penn, so that was never really a top priority for me in this internship. I will say this much, though: World Learning reaffirms a long-held belief of mine – if the office environment is pleasant enough, even the most mundane of tasks become palatable; nay, they even begin to seem pleasing.
There are a few new things, however, that I have picked up during my three months or so with World Learning. To mention a couple: I have learned to use an interesting citation and research compilation tool in Zotero. As I had written earlier, you have to try it to find out how useful it can be. For my fellow IEDPers just setting out in the work / research world, it provides a place where you can organize all your research and have it ready for reference. I have also learned to work with DevResults, which is quite a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation tool popular in development organizations.
However, as with everything, you also realize how things at this organization (or any organization out there) could be better. My previous rant about M&E may be hyperbole, but there was some (little) veracity to it. World Learning could definitely do with more visibility. Everyone in the development world could do with more impact from their interventions. But all of this makes it a place worth being in. Imagine coming to an organization and feeling that there is no way you could help improve it, that there is no way you could contribute to it because things are already so great. That wouldn’t really make for a telling work experience, would it? And putting my money where my (rather loose) mouth is, I have been applying for available positions in World Learning. One interview done, one more to go.
So, my overall experience at World Learning has been a highly positive one. I have learned a few new tricks, made quite a few new friends and now stand at the cusp of (finally) finishing this degree. And that feels good! Tomorrow, we have an afternoon get together planned at the office where we will be sharing some research and then bidding the interns (me and another one) goodbye. Let’s see if Lois makes a final appearance to lead us into song!
This time around, I took the same route back home through Amish country. There was one moment on the Susquehanna river bridge where on the opposite side of the single road, a horse cart led the way in its slow, measured, assured canter while all the shiny cars patiently followed it at snail pace. Read into it as you may.
As always, it was a beautiful drive back home, and one that I would do again and again – like my time at World Learning and Penn.