Reflecting on an Experience of a Lifetime

Words will fall short for me to reflect on my incredible internship experience at UNESCO IICBA. During my final week my office threw me a farewell that was one of a kind. The entire office gathered in the common area for a little farewell ceremony for another colleague and I, and also a short birthday celebration for two other colleagues. Those I worked with said a few words about my time there and said goodbye. This was a very overwhelming experience- I was just standing there awkwardly shuffling my feet unsure about which expression to wear. Imagine it’s your birthday and everyone is singing happy birthday to you for like 10 whole minutes and you just stand there not really knowing what to do. I feel like I couldn’t decide on what expression to wear so I just decided to nod and smile. It was all so thoughtful and nice of everyone and I ruined it a bit with just awkwardness and me saying thank you about 10,000 times. Nonetheless, my colleagues said some really lovely things to me that even my awkwardness could not dilute.

My very happy face because there’s cake! (with Gabriel who is off to grad school, and birthday boys Edwin and Adankegn) Picture courtesy- UNESCO IICBA’s Facebook page; Picture by Beth Roseman

I was given a little farewell gift bag that had a gabi (traditional Ethiopia warm scarf), a cup with Ethiopian art, and a farewell card with my colleagues’ good wishes and short messages. Next we all dived in some snacks and a cake and I got a chance to click some pictures with my colleagues.

Reflecting on this absolutely incredible journey, I am filled with gratitude for so many things. From how warmly I was accepted into the IICBA family, to how much everyone involved me in everything- it’s all exceeded my expectations. Some of my best memories have been my birthday dinner at Yumiko’s house, the Play & Resilience seminar, and exploring the sprawling and stunning UN compound. There were some lows, as every plot needs, from which I also tried to have some positive takeaways. Another major highlight was skyping with Dr. GK and filling her in on my life in Ethiopia. Just hearing her voice was such a breath of fresh air and brought me back to Penn and IEDP instantly. Everything she does for IEDP- from the Prosem classes (which I learnt were beyond useful during the internship), recitation hour, guiding us through the internship selection process, and during the internship- really prepares us for these adventures. There’s no way to even put to words any gratitude that would suffice, but for now- Thank you Dr. GK.

A farewell picture with Yumiko

The opportunity for me to learn has been the most powerful aspect of this internship. I was challenged enough in so many different ways that encouraged me to push myself and learn a lot. Something I learnt about myself is how easily I can be frustrated if instructions are not given in a chronological order. The number of times I already executed steps 3 and 4 and then was informed about steps 1 and 2 and then had to redo everything again that required an additional 40-minute commitment when I was already glued to my seat for the last 3 hours was…undesirable. While at school we have our professors feed us instructions in a highly chronological and clear manner to a point of hand holding, I feel like I was quite spoilt. Adjusting to how real-life works was a shock I took 2 months to even realize- no one is going to hold your hand or look over your shoulder and the onus is heavily on you to follow up, keep an open mind, and keep polishing your work. My supervisor Binyam is exceptionally busy and spends a lot of time out of the office for missions, meetings, and conferences, so coordinating with him also took some getting used to. I had to unlearn a lot of my earlier practices and adjust to how “office” is, since most likely most supervisors are as busy as Binyam generally is.

Outside of the internship, I am exceptionally thankful for Matt being there for me throughout the journey. We bonded over sharing a flat, chatting about our days every evening, exploring over the weekends, and being each other’s confidantes. Without Matt this would have been a very different experience, and I highly doubt I could have pulled through it in the almost hiccup-free way I did. We survived a collective 15 days of national internet and partial phone blockages, an attempted military coup a stone’s throw away from our house, muggings, and all the other intern life tribulations. Thank you so much for everything, Matt.

I’ve learnt so much from this short period of time, and I’m sure this will help me and prepare me for my next step in exploring my passion for International Educational Development. The process of reflecting and learning is an ongoing on, and I’m going to munch over this for an long as possible.

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