Why did you decide to do an international internship?
Last fall, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain for nearly four months. Participating in this abroad program reinforced and improved my ability to adapt to new cultural and social environments. I absolutely loved my time in Spain, especially my opportunity to learn and speak Spanish. Given this experience, I was inspired to continue traveling and exploring the world during the rest of my college years. So, when I found out that my university sponsored an accredited program to intern abroad in South America, I was ecstatic to apply.
How did you pay for your intern abroad experience?
To fund this experience, I used a scholarship that I received from my university (Northwestern), student loans, and the Diversity abroad scholarship.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about interning abroad before you left?
I wish I had done more pre-departure research about Bolivia's history, politics, and current social context. Since I was working for an NGO, this would have helped me better understand the community that I was trying to help. My advice to students going abroad is to be aware of the privileges that you hold, whether that be through your socioeconomic standing, sex/gender, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. Do not let your privileges speak for or overwhelm the experiences of local people in need. Also, even though people may seem so different from us, always remember to recognize our common humanity.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
I self-identify as a gay man. Before visiting Bolivia, I was warned by friends and family, who had never visited Bolivia, about the country's conservative views against homosexuality. I had the slightest assumption that my host family might be homophobic. Mostly importantly, I worried that I wouldn’t feel accepted in Cochabamba. After living there for two months, I can attest to the prevalence of conservative values in Bolivia — however, I never encountered a homophobic person or heard a homophobic slur. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all was finding out that my entire host family, even the seventy year old matriarch, was LGBTQ friendly. In fact, they even accompanied me to the Pride Parade here!
How has interning abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
I was inspired to go abroad because I knew that this traveling experience would help me focus my academic, pre-professional, and personal goals. As a sociology major, I was given the opportunity to view the intricate social relationship between people, culture, and prominent institutions. With regards to pre-professional goals, I am still not exactly sure what direction my life will take; however, I am interested in marketing and advertising. Going abroad taught me new cultural values and social interests — all of which could help me market a product or idea to a wider audience in the future. On the topic of personal goals, I grew as a culturally aware worldly citizen by immersing myself in another country’s way of life — I was able to draw similarities and distinctions to my own life here in the United States. On a different note, I really improved my Spanish speaking skills, and I now speak with a newfound sense of confidence.
Any additional comments or thoughts that you have about your intern abroad experience
My experience in Bolivia allowed me to developed a deep appreciation for the things that I often take for granted like, access to clean water, electricity, hygienic products, accessible methods of transportation, etc. Sometimes we aren't aware of how privileged we are to live in such a wealthy nation. I am continually inspired by the local people that I encountered — so many of them are incredibly wise, hardworking, genuine, and motivated to uplift our broken world.