So how was it?

April 28, 2016 | Kelsey, DVM, Mines Action Canada, Nepal - Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal – Program Support Officer

When I think about being back in Canada, I already dread answering the vague question of “So Kelsey, how was Nepal?” Nepal is such a beautiful, complex, frustrating, surprising and confusing place that I don’t know how I can do it justice with a 30 second response. How do I explain Nepal’s exceptional landscape? A country about the size of the Canadian Maritime provinces has both the tallest mountain in the world and jungles roaming with tigers, with a sharp contrast between the chaos of Kathmandu with the serenity of the country side. How do I explain the ethnic diversity of Nepal? Not only is it a majority Hindu country with clear Tibetan influences, Nepal is also home to many different ethnic groups with their own dialects. It is also a place where you can go to the same restaurant three times, order the same meal three times and be served something different every time.

However, what gets to me the most is how will I explain the genuine kindness of its inhabitants? I have never once here felt threatened by anything other than cars or monkeys, even as a woman. People are kind and always willing to help. On Holi, everyone was in the streets and genuinely happy, and clearly wanted to share that joy with their communities. Yet, I don’t think there is a better example of the kindness of the Nepalese people than how they treat animals. Before coming here, I got the rabies vaccine because I was afraid of the street dogs; I’ve began calling them community dogs because it is more representative. Everyone seems to do their best to help out the animals. I have often seen people feed random dogs just because they look hungry. At the monastery, the monks cover the guard dogs with blankets at night because it is cold outside. Although the Nepalese generally do not have much, they are generous and compassionate.

So how was Nepal? That is a question with many answers. I don’t want to reduce my experiences here to a single narrative. It was confusing, amazing, frustrating, exceptional and inspiring all at the same time. I have a deep appreciation for the time I have spent here. The unpredictable nature of Nepal is truly its biggest charm and source of learning. As my return to Canada lurks around the corner, I know all my family and friends will want to know about my time here. It stresses me to think about how I will answer their questions and if my answers will meet their expectations.

One month left

April 27, 2016 | Pierre-Nicolas, ECH, Mines Action Canada, Vietnam, Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities

As the first week of March ends, it’s weird to think that I’ll be already going back to Canada in three weeks. It’s also weird to realize how my expectations before coming here were so different than what I’ve experienced. Before coming to Vietnam for this internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was worried that I would find it boring and lonely in Dong Hoi. Living in a foreign country can be quite challenging, and I expected to often feel lost, stressed and possibly homesick in my time here. The fact that I was going to live in a small city like Dong Hoi made me thinking I was going to be in a rural area, with few fun activities. Vietnam being a communist state, I also believed that being a foreigner would attack constant attention from both the local population and especially the police.  But, thinking about all of this now, I really had no idea of how different and great Dong Hoi actually was. Like I wrote in one of my first postings on the community of practice, my first weeks here showed me what an interesting and nice place Dong Hoi was, and my time here has been amazing. From the beginning of my stay in Dong Hoi, I have been treated exceptionally well by the Vietnamese and expat community, I’ve had the chance to eat great new foods and my work with AEPD has given me great work experience. In all, all of this is to say that it’s been a great experience so far, and time really has flown by.

While I’m excited to see my family and friends back in Ottawa, it’s a bittersweet feeling knowing I’m be soon saying goodbye to such a great place and to some great friends I’ve made here.  While I expected to feel lonely and maybe bored, my expectations about this place were essentially way off. I’ve gotten to enjoy to the foods, the street noises and the general culture, and these all represent a great change to what I was used to in Ottawa. I find myself everyday enjoying my routine, and I really feel as though I could spend 3 more months here. If there one key lesson I’ve learned from this, it’s that you can’t really know what expect from a new environment until you’ve actually lived in it and experienced it in its entire entirety. It’s easy to imagine and have fears about the unknown, and it’s even scarier to actually take that step to actually find out for yourself. Living here has showed me that even though taking that step is hard, the rewards are effectively worth it. Discovering Vietnam and Dong Hoi has also taught me that even though third world countries don’t necessarily have the same luxuries as back in a country like Canada, it still has its own charm and advantages that other developed countries simply don’t have.

While I plan to enjoy my last weeks here, I’m just simply glad to have had my expectations proven wrong. I’m glad to have taken the steps to get here and I would always recommend this kind of experience to anyone else.

The spirit of Nepal

April 27, 2016 | Jennifer,DVM, Mines Action Canada, Nepal - Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal – Program Support Officer

When I arrive in Ottawa Sunday night I will have about 12 hours to recover and go to class Monday morning. What a strange and fast adjustment that will have to be. I’m used to waking up to the sound of the children monks chanting and shouting my name to wake me up (I made the mistake of telling the kids my name, so now they like to wake me up by screaming at me every morning at 6:00am). I’m used to brushing my teeth in the dark because of the power load shedding, with bottled water to rinse off my brush so I don’t get sick. I’m used to “chunky monkeys” in my coffee at least once a week because the milk has gone bad because the young boys who work in the kitchen at the monastery don’t understand the importance of expiry dates and refrigeration. I’m used to walking 20 minutes to work and risking my life crossing the insanely busy and chaotic Ring Road, now with the confidence of a local. And I’m used to passing by at least 1 cow, 3 goats and several ducks right outside my office twice a day. These are all small things that I never thought I would get used to, or even appreciate. But here I am on my last day of work, reminiscing about the amazing experience I have had here, and I truly think I am going to miss all of these quirks. I have learned that I take so much for granted back home, and I am worried that I will quickly forget how easy life is in Canada compared to the rest of the world. When people ask me “What do you miss most about home?” my answer is two thirds materialistic. 1) Family and friends, 2) Strong Internet connection (Nepal is the 2nd worst in the world) and 3) A tie between pizza, mac ‘n cheese, and avocados. Right now, if you were to ask me what I think I will miss most about living in Nepal, apart from the beautiful landscape, is more important than the quality of the wifi. I think I will sincerely miss the spirit of the people here. It’s hard to describe a feeling, but a great example would be how thousands of families lost their homes in the earthquake last year, but instead of every man for himself, neighbours and families and friends all worked together to rebuild with each other. If one family didn’t have enough to put food on the table, their neighbour would spare some extra rice for the children. The sense of community amongst the Nepalese is truly inspiring, and I hope to be able to bring a piece of that back with me to Canada. As I say my last goodbyes to this beautiful country it is a bittersweet feeling, as I am excited to see my family and friends back home, but I am also reminded that Nepal has so much left to teach me, and I just may have to come back one day.

Go with the flow

April 27, 2016 | Angela, DVM, WUSC, Botswana, International Student Management (ISM) Program Assistant

As my internship in Botswana is coming to an end in about two weeks, I’m constantly answering the question “when do you leave?” So, I’m always reminded of how much time I have left in the country. Around the mid-way point of my placement and a bit after it, my mind could not leave the notion of time running out and the worry of whether I was spending my time the right way or not. I would ask myself “what have I done so far”, and “have I experienced what I wanted to/needed to?”

What I learned from thinking this way, was that I had a whole list of expectations for my internship and myself. These expectations ranged from the work I would be doing, the people I would be meeting, the places I would visit, and things I would see. A lot of those expectations were not met and this reality accompanied with the notion of time running out set me into a state of regret and self-doubt. I think that’s where I felt the lowest in my internship. I would ask questions like “what did I do wrong” or “why didn’t I take this chance” “should I have planned more” and so on.

After some tough love from my close friends and family I snapped out of my gloomy mindset. I stopped analyzing things and I let go of my previous expectations of how my experience “should be”. I changed my outlook and let myself move forward by just going with the flow. If something happened that didn’t meet my expectations, I didn’t resist it or face it negatively. To give an example, for the longest time I was hung up on the fact that there are not a lot of other expats in the area for me to interact with. I was upset that I didn’t have a group to socialize with because that is what I pictured before my arrival. But my family brought up a good point in asking “what if that’s not why you’re there” or in other words “what if I don’t need a group of expats to enjoy my trip”. Sometimes we think we are aware of what we need so we search for those things with a tunnel vision. I’ve learned that thinking with a one track mind, rather than seeing the value in what I’ve already been presented leads to unnecessary negative feelings.

Moving forward with this open state of mind, I ended up having some of the best moments during my placement. After this bump in the road, suddenly the little things that I was unhappy about didn’t bother me anymore. Prior to this mindset, when I said to people that I had about two weeks left in Botswana, I felt a feeling of doubt, regret, worry, stress, sadness, and frustration all in one. Now when I say how much time I have left in the country I don’t feel bothered because I know that I’ve accomplished a lot during my ~12 week stay. In sum, I would say that we do not know what a stay abroad has in store for us before we get there. No matter how many times we travel, we can’t say what we will learn or how we will grow. However, there is always positive token that we can go home with, it’s just a matter of understanding what that token is.

Surprising myself

April 27, 2016 | Mehr, DVM, United Nations Association of Canada, Thailand, UNODC in Bangkok

It’s been almost a month here in Bangkok, and somehow I’ve kept it together, not a tear has been shed since the day of my flight, ladies and gentlemen. I know that sounds dramatic, but I don’t think I’ve been so terrified of anything in my life. I spent the day before my flight sobbing and packing, finding things to stress about and trying to convince my mom I wouldn’t be able to handle my time away, that I’m not independent enough. She knows me better than I know myself though, apparently, because ever since I left, I’ve been surprising myself.

During my first few days here, I was incredibly lucky to have a family friend and the other interns at work to help me find my apartment, figure out my walk to work, the rules of getting a cab in Bangkok, what to eat (which is honestly everything, even the ice is fine). I still hang out with those interns, and so many more, but I can can get around the city easily on my own now, I took the sky train yesterday alone, walked around an unfamiliar part of Bangkok to find a friend’s place, I’ve taken motorcycle taxis and explored markets and temples.I paid my rent yesterday, I know that seems silly, and last week I did my own laundry for the first time (I know, I’m embarrassed, you’re allowed to laugh), and I’ve been buying groceries and just, living independently. I’ve gotten home on my own late at night, safely, budgeting for myself, figuring things out without feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.

Work wise, I expected to feel inept, inadequate for the work they would give me, I thought they’d realize quickly that I didn’t deserve an internship with the UN. I’ve been lucky though, my supervisor is fantastic, very supportive and understanding. He actually was an intern with the agency once upon a time, so I think he really gets it. The rest of the small team I work with is great as well, very kind and willing to answer all of my questions, big and small. I’ve met interns from all over the world, some Canadian, some European, a few Thai, some from the Americas, other countries in Asia. Back to the actual work. Turns out, I haven’t felt inadequate at all, the work I’ve been given has been challenging, but having the right resources has made the challenges fun and interesting, and support from other interns in the office, and my team has been invaluable.

Essentially, life in Bangkok has been exactly the opposite of what I thought it would be. I have been the opposite of what I thought I would be. I’ve been happier here than I thought possible. I know that that’s also because the whole experience is new and exciting and different, but I’m just thankful, I think, not to have been holed up in my room every night, waiting for March 31st anxiously, because that’s genuinely how I thought these three months would go until I moved into my apartment. I wrote this in hopes that you’re having similar experiences, surprising yourselves with your own strength, maybe in small ways, maybe in even bigger ways, but also just because I’m really proud of myself for having more emotional and mental strength than I thought I did. For being more capable than I thought I was.

In love!

April 27, 2016 | Andrew, POL/HIS Uniterra, Vietnam, Academic and Soft Skills Training Intern Ho Chi Minh City College of Economics (HCE)
I arrived in Vietnam January 10th around 22H00 after three long flights. The “rush to wait” of traveling had put me in a kind of bliss associated to the vulnerability of traveling. Going through customs gave me a good sense of what was to come as the customs officer looked at my visa and passport, nodded and let me through without even asking a question. Everything to come was going to be the opposite of the North American perception that I had arrived with. The first thing that shocked me when stepping out of the airport was the chaos of the streets. Scooters zoomed passed me cutting each other off, which to them seemed normal… I quickly learned that Vietnam was organized around a kind of controlled chaos. The first day was probably the most difficult as I wanted to venture out of my hotel and explore but the chaos of the streets with all the scooters aggressively rushing by made me uncomfortable to even cross the street. Once I began my orientation with my organization i quickly adapted to this controlled chaos. I have now been in Vietnam for five days and it feels like two weeks. I now have no reservation in talking, eating and walking (harder then you think). I have come to adore the chaos of leaving my room in the morning and indulging in the sensory overload of the streets. Vietnam is slowly becoming home away from home.

this is the city that has it all!

April 27, 2016 | Rebecca, DVM, Afrique du Sud, Gender at Work - Labour Research Service, assistante de programme

I have been in Cape Town for only two days and my initial impression is ” this is the city that has it all”. Geographically stunning, Cape Town is surrounded on all sides by the gorgeous mountain range, made up of Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, and Lions Head Mountain, and the bright turquoise ocean. Incredible wildlife, forests, and gardens climb up the mountainsides and spill into the city that is nestled below this scenery. Cape Town has a thriving city center full of restaurants, shopping and museums, business district, several working harbors, many beautiful beaches for relaxing or surfing, and calmer outskirts, such as Observatory, the neighborhood where I am living, and Salt River, the neighborhood where my fellow intern is living. We are fortunate enough to have a week off before we begin work and we took advantage of our first full day in South Africa to take a city bus tour through the many areas of Cape Town, up the mountains, through gardens and parks, and along the coast. This gave us a taste of the many adventures that the city has to offer.

However, it also showed us the incredible inequalities that exist in this beautiful city. Our city bus tour drove from a winding coastal road that displays massive sleek glass condos lining the mountain walls leading to stunning ocean views, to an intensely crowded slum full of ramshackle tin houses and dirt roads. These slums are referred to as townships in Cape Town and, to my initial knowledge, are both of a result of apartheid and rural-to-urban migration. Sabrina and I were uncomfortable when the tour bus suggested we hop off for a walking tour of the township; we weren’t comfortable with the idea of someone’s neighborhood being a tourist attraction based on the fact that it was viewed as impoverished with bad living conditions. It seemed wrong to me for a group of presumably wealthy tourists to invade the homes of others and ogle at their everyday realities, and then get back on the bus and return to a privileged situation. Trying to apply this situation to myself, although I am someone with much privilege, I considered how I would feel if very wealthy people in Ottawa went walking through my student neighborhood of Sandy Hill in order to share with their friends how poorly we were living and possibly pity us in our situations. This scenario to me seemed degrading and unwelcome, ultimately chipping away at the dignity and pride people may have for their homes. We also knew that we may be working in the townships through our internship assignments and were looking forward to learning more about the townships within this professional environment. However, the tour company informed us that the walking tours are purely run through the township and all of the money goes back into the neighborhood itself; if it is a source of revenue for the local people, does it become more ethically responsible? As well, the townships are widely recognized as a major social issue for Cape Town and protests regularly take place as township residents call for more awareness and solutions for their issues. Perhaps tours are one way to raise awareness? Finally, who are we, as visitors who have only been in the country for a day, to say that something run by Cape Town residents is wrong; wouldn’t they be the ones to decide what is right for their own neighborhoods? We still turned down the offer and I have been considering the ethics of this business venture since. I ultimately do not feel comfortable with this situation and likely won’t be engaging in a township tour, but am interested in knowing if anyone has any thoughts on these sort of tours? It has some similarities to the voluntarism debate often had within International Development circles.

I will close off by saying that I feel incredibly privileged to have been in Cape Town for a day and to have seen more of the city than many South Africans or even local residents have had the opportunity to see; one of the many inequalities I am beginning to recognize.

My first week at work

April 27, 2016 | Jocelyn, DVM, Malawi, Students Without Borders - Farm Radio Trust, Youth Economic Intern
My first day of work was interesting to say the least. We started with a general staff meeting, that begins and ends with a prayer. The most interesting part of the meeting was a discussion about fuel that lasted an hour. They were discussing logistics about fuel for the cars and the generator, specifically about not having enough money to by fuel, and that each department should only put in the amount of fuel they needed to get to a meeting. This leaves the fuel empty so the next department has to run out and get fuel for their meeting. This is just of the examples of things we take for granted in everyday life. In Canada we would not have meetings regarding how to use fuel or how many hours a day we can run the generator for. It was very interesting to be involved in a discussion that while it seems menial, actually has a large impact on the ability for the office to function. After the meeting I was invited to another interns house for a real Malawian meal made with beans and nsima (a maize paste). It was amazing to me that we had just met 3 hours earlier and she invited me into her home for lunch. I guess I have been prepared for the unexpected regarding my internship, but it was still a shock when I was told that my boss won’t be in this week because he has malaria. Despite asking other colleagues if they needed help, I have nothing to do. I have been reading documents about NYCOM, and their local partners, and just waiting for my boss to get better so I can be assigned work. I feel like I have such a short time here so I am anxious to start working! My boss finally came in to work Friday and he said we were going somewhere, so I hoped in the car with my colleagues, and we drove to this really nice conference centre, where there was a youth conference happening. Apparently my work was one of the organizations hosting it and the President of Malawi was the guest of honour. It was an amazing experience to see the President and the traditions that went along with hosting him, such as his own personal band and dancers. It was so inspiring to here from a group of young people from Malawi telling their experiences directly to the President, and the see the reality of the challenges youth are facing in the country. My mandate is to engage with youth organizations, so it was a great, unexpected experience that gave me some insight on the youth challenges in Malawi! Can’t wait to see what next week brings, hopefully some work direction!!

The world waits for no one

December 14, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

I can’t remember where I first heard that quote but it’s something that I’ve kept in the back of my mind for many years. However; it wasn’t until I returned to Canada that I began to grasp the raw truth of this statement. Life happens around you, through you; so constant, fast, and unapologetic if you blink and miss your opportunity. Ottawa kept moving while I was away and Port of Spain will not stop because I am gone. What feels strange is that despite this, I have returned to a place that is very much the same yet entirely different. Or perhaps the only thing that has changed is myself.

Three months is an odd amount of time to live in another country. It’s just enough time to get comfortable and then you have to pick and up and leave your newly constructed life to dive headfirst into your old one. During the Reintegration Seminar this week I have been reflecting a great deal on what this experience has meant to me, but more importantly, how this experience has changed me as a person. I know it is incredibly cliché to say this but it doesn’t make it any less true.

My time in Port of Spain showed me the realities of development in the field and the extreme passion of those who do it well. I have learned that learning out side of the classroom is a fundamental component of preparing oneself for the job market and life. I have come to recognize the shortcomings of my program but to also appreciate its multi-disciplinary nature. Even though prior to this experience I had not taken any specific classes relating to the subject of my work, I did not feel unprepared because I had touched on many of these topics in other courses. The required “reflection” assignments and regular contact with my fellow interns made me realize the power of international cooperation and collaboration. Although my peers and I were scattered around the globe we were still able to share similar experiences and learn from the cultural, historical, social, and political contexts of each other’s host countries.

It is very difficult to even begin to “sum-up” the last three months of my life. I strongly feel that attempting to share specific details would be unacceptable because it would only reflect the smallest tile in the elaborate mosaic of my experience. It would be irresponsible to share these details because it would distract from the unique and intricate mural that must be viewed in its entirety to be fully and truly appreciated.

This internship has taught me more about myself, the world, my program of studies, my peers, and what I want from life, than any other personal/professional experience. I knew that when I was stepping onto the airplane in Trinidad I was saying goodbye to a very important part of myself that would always remain in Belmont. I felt extremely sad at first but this week I have realized that my learning has only just begun as I begin to rebuild within this newly created “void”. Armed with new knowledge and a fierce and fresh perspective I have a new opportunity to build myself stronger and more resilient than ever before in preparation for the next opportunity to leave a little piece of my heart somewhere special in the world.

Back to Reality

December 14, 2015 | Zen, South Africa, Labour Research Service, Gender at Work, Program Assistant-Monitoring

It’s amazing to think how fast three months can go by, and how much you can accomplish and change in that time period. In terms of the internship I have completed tasks that range from transcriptions, taking minutes, compiling and finalizing reports, interviews…the list goes on. One of my favorite tasks however was sitting in on the workshops as well as conducting interviews for the LRW campaign. I have learnt the sad reality of what happens when campaigns end because of funding, or the things that campaigns are unable to do because of lack of funding. On the other hand, I have also seen the impact of having sufficient funding. With am ample amount of funds, the LRW campaign has been able to reach a number of workers and unions. With their workshops able to provide a venue for workshops, plus food (breakfast, lunch, and tea) helps within bringing individuals into the workshops. On another note, I have seen the need for dedication to wanting to make a change. Many of these workshops happen over the weekend, so participants must take out time from their leisure lives to attend the workshops.

After reflecting on all the time I have spent in Cape Town on my own I was afraid that going to the re-entry training would be difficult in the sense that since I was feeling badly about leaving South Africa, I felt that talking about the trip and reminiscing would make me miss the people and the place even more. However in reality, it made me realize that perhaps one of the reasons I was feeling so overwhelmed about leaving was because I was unable to fully comprehend and digest everything that I had experienced in the past three months. Talking about my experiences and trying to understand some of the core reasons why I feel sad about leaving made me realize that feeling sad sometimes is a good thing! In this case, it means that I had an amazing experience in Cape Town. So if there is one major skill I still need to learn, and will hopefully learn sooner than later, is the ability to let go.

Cape Town is just starting to go into the summer months and it was beautiful just before I left. With beach day weather every day, hikes, wine tours, and braais with new friends, leaving Cape Town feels like I’m leaving a paradise behind. It’s strange to think a place I’ve lived in for only a short time is now feeling like a home I’ve left behind, but I’m ready to see where my life takes me next. Hello again, Canada.