A Final Reflection about going Around the World in 85 Days

posted Sep 28, 2012, 6:11 PM by jj pionke

When I set out on my global internship odyssey, I thought about it in terms of adventure, learning, and cultural exchange.  Having lived abroad for a year in Japan and a semester in London, I had ideas of what I would face but there was no way of knowing for sure until I was actually there.  My internships started in Ann Arbor, MI at the Bentley Historical Library where I researched and built an exhibit on GLBTQ history at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and in Michigan in general.  Then I moved half a world away to the National University of Singapore for a month where I worked on information literacy.  Finally, I flew to Uganda to work in the Uganda National Archive cataloging a substantial collection. 

My internships encompassed three very different skill sets.  At the Bentley, I drew on my research skills, in Singapore my teaching skills, and in Uganda my skills in patience, negotiation, and attention to detail.  In some ways, these skills were exactly what I expected to use and in others, not so much.  I found that I needed to be more creative in Singapore and more patient in Uganda because of the sheer number of things to be done there.  It was hard to rein in my desire to be creating and doing as much as I wanted to.  Likewise, I found there were times in all three of my internships where I felt under-challenged and I sought out ways to overcome that by working on enlarging projects that I had been assigned and negotiating for more work to keep me engaged and to bring more value to my time there for both the organization and myself.

In Singapore and Uganda there were many cultural barriers to overcome.  The language, food, customs, work habits, were all very different from that of the United States and there were times when I struggled with everything, sometimes all at once.  Yet, being in places that were so different than where I come from was one of the reasons that I went abroad.  I wanted to experience more of the world and that is exactly what happened to me.  I experienced the world.  I flew around the world in 85 days making a complete loop from Chicago to Singapore to Uganda to Belgium and the Netherlands back to Chicago.  I had internships and I also was a tourist.  I ate a fantastic variety of food in Singapore, meditated at the Wats in Thailand, shopped at the Patronas Towers in Malaysia, went on safari in Uganda, ate chocolate in Belgium, and gazed upon Van Gogh’s art in the Netherlands.  I built a one of a kind of exhibit at the Bentley which brought GLBTQ awareness to the area, helped redevelop the information literacy plan at the National University of Singapore to streamline and update it, and with a team from the University of Michigan and University of Cambridge, we cataloged a vital collection at the Uganda National Archive to make history more accessible for all. When I think of my Summer in those terms, my internships were amazing and despite the times when I was homesick, experiencing culture shock, or frustrated because I was having a hard time understanding anyone, I would do them all again in a heartbeat.

My global experiences will absolutely help me in my future career, not just in terms of making me a well-rounded individual but also in reaching out to others, especially people who are vastly different than me.  I interacted with people from a wide array of leadership styles, political and religious systems, and communication points of view.  I cataloged, gave presentations, brainstormed, negotiated, created documents of various sorts, filmed, analyzed, assessed, developed, recruited, discussed, and built.  All of these are skills that I developed more fully through the lens of a cultural explosion of difference.

I was asked recently what was the value of doing an internship abroad and my answer was being abroad itself is the answer.  While I had an valuable and amazing internship in the United States at the Bentley Historical Library, going overseas gave a much sharper juxtaposition for my skills in terms of adaptability, leadership, initiative, and the ability to overcome extreme obstacles.  Going abroad says a lot about my character and my skills. 

the teacher look at UNA