One international internship: check!

April 7, 2011 | Erica, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia, The Center of Foreigh Languages (Generail English Program), IIC university of Technology, Rector's Assistant

Three months have passed and a lot of work has been done, however, I’m left with both a feeling of accomplishment and of unfinished business.

I was fortunate to be able to work in a developing country and see the result of change within three months. By bringing more opportunities to students, such as an English speaking club, a language lab, and increasing the accountability of their teachers, I’ve changed (if not improved) what the university can provide to students. I may have introduced the initial phases of these projects but I continue to think of what more there is to do. I contemplate the larger context and think of how, perhaps, nothing had really changed at all. Although I did my best, managing this negative thoughts is a challenge.

If I could do anything different, I would have requested for more explanation about how the university functioned. I spent too much time trying to figure things out on my own and even after asking multiple questions or overcoming the language barrier, I didn’t get straight answers. There were many instances where I felt that others wanted me to do something for them rather than work with me, even though I knew less than them. Very few people tried to understand my situation as a foreign intern who did not know or understand how the university worked. I was only a mediator, a person to facilitate action with the knowledge that they had. Although I had difficulties managing my own work ethic in a different cultural setting, I did my job with the prime intention of increasing the quality of education for the students, and that’s the most I could do.

On a more positive note, the experience was one of a kind. Even with all the problems I encountered, it was all part of the learning process. I wouldn’t understand about institution building in a developing country without the obstacles and frustrations. In the end, I was able to contribute my effort and ideas to the university. I focused on sharing critical thinking skills and passing these skills onto others. I incorporated it into my teaching - showing students a different way to learn -, specifically shared it with the assistant of the GEP office - who learned very well ob her own from watching and listening to me  -, and explained my reasoning to the other staff members I worked with.

I continued to learn about the education system in Cambodia while trying to understand how the univeristy I worked at fit into that broader structure. I recognized the desire to break away from the structural problems, and the clear inability to do so without income, opportunity, government aid… the list goes on. It was difficult to see myself  - my expectations, my opportunities, my wealth - within this setting. But I made a few friends who conversed with me, taught me more and listened to me. I taught them in return, and they were happy for me to be there.

After three months, I understand the culture to a depth I wouldn’t have thought possible before. I’ve become familiar with the people’s ways of living and thinking, all to a certain extent of course. I can at least say that I know how  some Cambodians think about their lives and the world, even if this comes from a biased perspective of the higher educated and urban community. It’s been incredibly insightful to hear how the youth analyze and critique their own country, living standards and culture in comparison to others. The country is clearly still defining itself  from the recent (and present) traumas of war, genocide and poverty. A process of change is occurring.

I will always remember Cambodia as it today and although I’m sad it won’t be the same when I return again, I’ve experienced something wonderful to watch the country transform itself for a brighter future.

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