Now that you are nearing completion of your internship, what words of advice would you give to the next intern? Would you do it all over again?
How did this experience challenge your assumptions and stereotypes? How can you be more compassionate/informed/involved regarding the community you served?
Going abroad and doing this internship has been the most rewarding and refreshing experience of my undergraduate career, and I would definitely do it all over again. If going to college and meeting people from all over the U.S. is new and exciting, then going abroad and meeting people from all over the world is even more so. This experience challenged my assumptions and stereotypes about my own ethnic group in general. For example, I expected to dress very conservatively in Shanghai and to see people dressed very fashionably. As it turned out, fashion was very very different in Shanghai and most of the time it seems like wearing less is considered fashionable and even acceptable. Besides my work place, where all the staff wore tshirts and sweatpants, most employees anywhere else wore less than work appropriate clothes by U.S. standards, and that was quite a surprise to my assumption that Chinese people dress conservatively. I also had reservations going into this internship and was careful about who and what I trust since I know very little about people in China, and the few sources of information I get is the news, which always features scams, scandals, and frauds from Chinese people, including selling faulty baby formula. However, I was lucky and did not eat/buy anything faulty that would harm my body, and at my workplace I did find many of my coworkers to be modest and kind people who were very open and honest with me, especially helping me navigate the big city that is Shanghai. On the other hand, at my orientation in China, I watched an introduction DVD that explained that Chinese people can be contradictory, they can be very reputation/face-oriented, but they are also very kind, to the point of almost overbearing. I definitely experienced a lot of kindness almost overbearing, which is not a bad thing, since I'm abroad by myself. My coworkers were very concerned about my health, whether it was being out in the hot sun or getting a small bruise or cut. One of my Scottish flatmates was even cornered by old Chinese ladies on the street trying to rub ointments on the huge bug bites on her legs. Talk about hospitality. In terms of assumptions and stereotypes about the specific community I was serving, I knew only the very basics of cerebral palsy from reading online medical websites and the center's website itself, and I wanted to go into the internship with an open mind and a blank slate. I think if I did not do the internship, I would have assumed that cerebral palsy patients have more or less similar conditions, and that many of the patients are also mentally disabled. In fact, there are many variations of cerebral palsy since it is a general umbrella term for damage to parts of the brain, and that could really affect a variety of functions to a variety of degrees. Limbs stiffen and twist in different ways for different children and speech is certainly severely affected for some, but not at all for others. Many of the children were actually the same in terms of intelligent capacity as ordinary children, and interacting with them felt very normal and relaxed.
I was also hesitant that the organization in general might be full of hidden problems before my internship. Fortunately, the center was much better organized than many of its peers. At the very least, the center was honest and strives to be transparent. The staff were affectionate towards the children and developed good relationships with them. Another center that I visited had purported to be a rehabilitation center for disabled orphans, but it was just a dirty home that kept the orphans alive without any help for their disabilities, and that was very disheartening to see.
To be more involved regarding the community I served, I would like to learn more about PJHC as it relates to people with disabilities. I like to think that those who are disabled are already at a disadvantage considering the capability approach, and society often ostracize the disabled even more, further endangering their capabilties. I would like to learn more about cerebral palsy in the U.S. and if there are any neglected disbaled population in the U.S. I hope to stay in touch with my organization because they are celebrating their 10th anniversary in a month or so and to see if I can help out with their overseas fundraising efforts.
To the next intern, I would honestly say YOLO. You only live once was something I threw around jokingly when living in the U.S. because while I would like to seize the day, I had to be serious about every decision I made because college is such an important time. But during my internship and adventures in China, I felt more free and definitely seized the day a lot more and gained a lot from that. Should I try that weird smelling food that everything says is really good? Yeah, why not. Should I buy the cheapest train ticket and sit for 15 hours straight because that is the only ticket left? Well screw it, I'll probably be okay. My foreigner friend and I have no clue how to get to this place! Let's just hop on the metro anyway. Obviously, do not throw common sense out the window, you should only YOLO insofar as your health is intact, but don't take yourself so seriously, you might only be in that country being 20 years old once, so go learn the native language and practice on people, browse Couchsurfing.com and meet a local stranger, and run home in the pouring rain without an umbrella.