Hi there! My name is Bronte and I recently completed a virtual internship with the FutureSense Foundation (FSF) in Nepal. Admittedly, I was slightly apprehensive before getting involved in the program. My concerns were mostly centred around one question - how could I possibly immerse myself in a new culture through a laptop screen?
However, I had no reason to worry! Through the welcoming nature and openness of the in-country team and ongoing support from my mentor, I felt highly engaged with the local community. A virtual internship can be as enriching as any other, as long as you are willing to ask a lot of questions and get involved.
Here is a collection of tips and tricks to survive a Challenges Abroad Virtual Internship. That being said, there is no “one size fits all” rule book for the program. I can only speak from my own experience, based on what worked for me!
To maximise your experience, it is key to prepare before each meeting. Creating a list of goals or key guiding questions can be useful to provide some structure to your conversations and keep track of your progress. Keep in mind, you do not have to strictly stick to the plan! Sometimes going “off-script” allows you to explore areas you did not foresee, but at least you have a clear approach from the get-go. Feeling prepared does not mean you should feel trapped.
TOP TIP: Send a list of questions a few days in advance so the other party can gauge what you would like to focus on, understand your intention, and prepare their responses. This is helpful to navigate the language barrier and make a more efficient use of time!
Murphy’s law states "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" - and damn, that is true.
Even if you prepare well, things are bound to go wrong. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some complications which may arise:
★ Power outages
★ Technical difficulties (particularly with video conferencing)
★ Time differences (my final presentation included attendees from 5 different time zones)
★ Last minute cancellations, delays, or rescheduling
★ Personal circumstances or illness
Go with the flow, be resourceful and patient, and things will eventually work out. Complications are inevitable, so don’t stress too much about it!
TOP TIP: Use email or Whatsapp to follow up on any issues you experienced. For example, if the audio cuts out during an interview, just note down what is happening so you can reexamine the missing information later.
The hardest part about a virtual internship is not physically being in the community you are working with. You are not able to directly immerse yourself in the culture, so you will need to compensate for this by taking initiative to dive deeper.
Ask questions about everything! And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.
★ Family, traditions
★ Festivals, celebrations, religion
★ Social dynamics, politics, history
Sure, quantitative data is important, but so are personal anecdotes and first-hand evidence. Numbers do not always show the heart of humanity. Who are the people behind the statistics?
The world is a kaleidoscope of individuals with unique cultural backgrounds, experiences, trauma and values. No one way of living is better than the other, only different...and different is what makes life interesting! Keep looking for fresh perspectives and consider news ways of looking at the same issues.
TOP TIP: Navigate your personal privilege. Everyone faces difficulties in life, but it is important to identify and acknowledge areas where you have innately benefited. This is not to say your life has been easy, only that some factors have not made it harder.
While your project may be highly specific to the area you are working in, it is essential to keep the big picture in mind.
There is an ongoing balancing act between understanding the cultural nuances of the specific region, while also considering the potential global applications of your research. How can your findings and suggestions apply to other communities on a larger scale?
For example, my project was about zoonotic diseases in Dhulikhel, Nepal. I examined the issue from a one Health perspective by looking at how such diseases affect PEOPLE, ANIMALS and the ENVIRONMENT. This model is an extremely useful approach for developing curriculum design and workshops in the future since it highlights the notion that health cannot exist solely in one domain as all three are inextricably linked. This framework can also be applied to other FutureSense Foundation hubs to assess how zoonotic disease affects their communities too!
TOP TIP: Don’t be afraid to try something new. Staying narrow minded will only hinder you. It is good to have goals, but don’t shut yourself from other ideas! Sometimes the most interesting things are what you discover authentically, without preparation or searching.
At the end of the day, I can share every aspect of my own experience but your virtual internship will not be the same as mine. You will have your own project, own ideas, and own personal approach. I hope my tips are somewhat useful, but be sure to pave your own journey in whatever direction it takes.
Good luck! You’ve got this.
Bronte is also published on our website with her own international experience from home! Check out her other blog here!
If you’re passionate about making a difference in this world, don’t let this pandemic stop you! We don’t want anyone missing out on an international experience, so we’ve brought it to you. Check out our virtual internship program on our website for more information.