In the middle of my internship, I took one of the restaurant staff members out to dinner to show my appreciation for feeding me throughout my time. I took her to a Mexican restaurant because she never had Mexican food, but knew that burritos were my favorite. After watching me eat two burritos and two tacos and finishing her own meal, she smiled and said “I will remember this the rest of my life.” I didn’t realize how a small gesture could mean so much, until my own experience came to an end.
My last week on the job, my coworkers had a small party, took me out, and gave me food, homemade cards, and small gifts. I realized that they were no longer strangers from different cultures; they were my friends. I hope to remain friends with them the rest of my life and host them in Washington to return the favor. My supervisor, Mark, had a toddler and I will definitely watch him grow up through pictures.
Reading my blogs, I realize that I intended to give more information and be more specific, but being busy with studying, having my girlfriend visit, traveling through Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, and working six days a week prevented me from writing more. What I can say is that this was an amazing experience for me.
The challenges that I initially identified including language, food, and weather, were not my real experience. I overcame all those issues quickly, only to see a much deeper challenge– navigating the subtle cultural differences and learning to communicate across languages. The experience was sometimes isolating and frustrating, but at the same time the frustration and isolation were what made the experience meaningful.
Only in proper time will I understand what I learned and precisely how it will help me in the future. For now, I can be happy that I adapted and succeeded, and know I want to continue to work and travel internationally for the time being. In the meantime, I have plenty of stories: from my professional experience composing marketing materials for a top ranked NGO, to the fun trips such as riding a elephant, and having a farewell dinner with Smith School Alumnus, Nutchapol Thanyarattakulas “Terps helping Terps” worldwide. There are, of course, my favorite stories; saving a British person from drowning while tubing during rainy season, and carrying a girl with a broken foot to the hospital! In time, I will have the proper perspective to tell the stories, but for now, I have a plane to catch back to America, back to my other internship, back to school, and back to my home.
Thank you to everyone, especially Karen Watts, Nutchapol, the PDA staff, my friends, my family, and Meryl for making my trip a reality and being there for me during my adventure!