Welcome Home

As I sit in the comfort of my own bed at home, I think about the self I was before I left and the self I am now. It’s nice to leave my survivalist mindset and reflect. To make another home in another country is quite difficult, and I’m not sure if I can say that Israel is a country I’d want to visit again. I went to Israel with naive optimism, full of expectation that I would learn, grow, and enjoy travel. I did not realize how difficult the experience would be, but in hindsight, those difficulties were precisely why my experience in Israel was so enriching.

 

Few months before I arrived to IDC with interest in virtual reality, I had watched a TED Talk on how VR was being termed the new empathy machine. The speaker explained the way VR could become a way to embody people into other characters’ shoes and to foster empathy towards global and local issues. I imagined VR as a machine that could truly actualize the famous quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Though I had started out with such an optimistic focus on the research, I actually ended up writing more about how VR could potentially de-empathize users and manipulate human behavior. I had initially thought of VR as a new form of media storytelling that could expand one’s understanding of the world through empathy, but such potential also comes with an increased potential for negative, coercive purposes. Empathy and the act of understanding are tricky ideas, with virtual reality blurring the line between real persuasion and brainwashing. In a way, I’ve become more cynical about the potentials of this technology, but that does not mean I’ve lost hope in it. The study of technology ethics is critical not to just speculate dystopian scenarios, but to understand the duality of many technological innovations. Especially in VR, ethics explain the nuances behind the commercialized optimism that corporations promote to consumers. Some of the questions I explored in VR were: 1) What are the long-term psychological effects of being embodied in VR? 2) Could VR create false, “virtual” memories? 3) How do you represent race and identity if you can “become” another ethnicity in VR? To understand the ethical implications can help us use our technology wisely without outright being closed off and conservative about it. I strive to find the balance between critical thinking and hope and to find a way we could wisely use the technology without undermining the core humanity within us.

 

Being in Israel also forced me to think more about my privilege of being a Penn student and the way I approach the wonder of travel. Being a low-income student who did not want to ask parents for money, I may have pushed my limits a bit too much on how survivalist I could become in a foreign country. While I had gained a lot of life skills doing that, I also sacrificed part of my sanity to maintain it. It’s a paradox that I was living in – to have this opportunity to intern and travel a foreign country while simultaneously being unable to afford to be a tourist like everyone else. That in-between space I inhabited gave me a new perspective on how I should travel and also why I travel. Travel is never just about consuming visual landscapes; the cliche definition is to learn different cultures, but really, it is more about exploring our own selves and our own ways of adaptation and confrontation of how we approach uncertainty and the unknown. Confronting my own shyness while still being ambitious about what I loved was something I had to continuously mediate during my travels. I traveled on my own a lot without the usual group of Penn students, and that solitude actually helped me make more friends. It’s weird to say that solitude can lead to more relationships, but that’s exactly what happened to me — solitude fostered a critical inner strength to be more open about myself and the stories all around me. I will always remember the stories I heard from my Russian-Canadian landlady, the Czech-Israeli sous-chef who took me on a culinary tour, the German chemist who I shared beer with, and all these people who have changed my life in subtle, but rooted ways.

-Seung Chung
IDC Herzliya, Israel

Preparing for the Internship

In order to tell this story accurately, I need to give a little bit of background. I flew to The Gambia from Australia. I had been living in Brisbane for about five months prior to participating in the Penn International Internship Program. I can honestly say that those five months were some of the best of my life. I loved living in Brisbane, I loved my roommates, and I loved the hospital I worked at. I honestly don’t think I ever would have been ready to leave Brisbane, and I think that having something excited to look forward to helped me to be able to leave without getting too sad. It didn’t keep me from avoiding the reality that I was leaving, though. This is where the problem was. I have never in my life procrastinated on doing something as much as I procrastinated in packing to fly to Africa. I pretty much left myself two hours to put everything I thought I needed into my backpack and a suitcase.

 

To make my life more complicated at this point, I need to get to The Gambia as soon as possible, but my finals in Australia were scheduled really late. In order to get to The Gambia and still have enough time there, I scheduled my flight to leave the night of my final exam. I walked out of the exam knowing I had to race home, actually pack my bags, and be on the shuttle to the airport in about two and half hours. Miraculously, I made it to the airport on time.

 

Even more miraculously, none of my luggage was overweight. Since I, literally, had no idea what to expect, I agonized over what to wear. I know, know, such a silly thing to worry about. The problem was that as much research as I did online, I couldn’t quite figure out what was acceptable to wear in The Gambia. I just knew that the country is predominantly Islam, so I felt like I needed to be respectful of the culture, but I also needed to dress appropriately for work. To make this whole process more difficult, I knew that it was going to be hot, like, really hot.

 

Now that I have arrived (I made it yesterday and after a stupid number of hours in transit). I have realized that:

  • There are so many other things I should have been worried about.
  • No one really cares what I wear. My normal clothes totally would have been respectful enough.
  • It’s going to be a hot, hot summer.

 

A note on my travel:

Like I mentioned before, I spent an insane amount of time in transit. Thank you Australia for being far from EVERWHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WOLRD. I flew from Brisbane to Perth, Perth to Doha, Doha to Casablanca, Casablanca to Bissau, and finally, Bissau to Banjul. It was actually kind of fun, and gave me a lot of time to think. Mostly I thought, ”What the heck did I get myself into. I’m crazy.” My line of thought eventually transitioned to, “Excited. Nervous. Too tired and hungry to think in full sentences.” I had a super long layover in Casablanca, and thought that I would get out and explore, but I had my checked bags because I used, like five different airlines to get to The Gambia, so I couldn’t just check them through to The Gambia. Conveniently, the airport in Casablanca does not have luggage storage. I was just too tired to handle the thought of schlepping my luggage into the city, etc. I had a bounty bar (coconut covered in chocolate), barbecue chips, and a soda for lunch then napped on hard plastic chairs for about six hours. Exciting stuff.

 

I really thought that I’d be more freaked out during this whole time, but I was weirdly calm and not freaked out. I really enjoyed seeing the different airplanes, airports, languages, and people as I made my way across the globe. I was a little nervous that no one would be there when I arrived, but I didn’t let myself think about it very much. I did have a funny moment at customs in The Gambia. They wanted to go through my bags, but when they asked what I was doing in The Gambia and I told them I was volunteering in Bwiam at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital, their attitude immediately changed. They said, “Oh, since you’re a doctor here to help our country, we’ll just let you be on your way.” This was one of the only times in my life I didn’t correct someone that, “No, I’m not a doctor, I’m a nurse.” With that, I had successful entered The Gambia with all the wrong business casual clothes that covered most of my body (didn’t want to cause a scandal), and my french press and ground coffee.

 

Now I am enjoying said coffee, while sitting at the back door of the house I am staying at the hospital, looking across a red, dusty field at an amazing Baobob tree. I’m honestly so happy to be here. I keep pinching myself to see if this is actually real life. I am excited and so nervous about what’s going to happen over the next two months.

-Kaelyn York
Power Up Gambia, The Gambia

End of Internship

In the final days of my internship, I worked on finishing the baby products buying guide. This book is the big, tangible product of my internship and was a collaborative project amongst the graphics team. I focused on using Photoshop to create product drawings; we wanted the book to have a lot of images to give consumers a better idea of what the products looked like and how to use them. After going through all the images, I feel like I’m full prepared to have a baby. Honestly, I never thought I would know so much about baby products at this age. But now, I could tell you the difference between types of cribs, bottles, toys, etc. and what is safe vs. unsafe.

 

During the last weekend, we attended a collaborative consulting brainstorm session focused on helping MingJian improve and grow. This was a one-day discussion that brought together consultants and other professionals to discuss the problems facing MingJian and how to solve them. The interns mixed with the professionals in small groups and discussed creative solutions. This was a really cool experience because we got to understand how third party observers viewed MingJian and gained a more objective perspective. One consultant decided to stay for the whole day and cancel his other appointments because he was so swayed by MingJian’s mission. We all worked together to see how others could be as equally convinced by the mission. One problem we identified was that the mission and story is hard to convey in one short tagline, so it is really dependent on word of mouth to spread. Some solutions we came up with include hosting more in-person events and creating MingJian ambassadors to spread the mission to their friends.

 

The last week in Shanghai was very bittersweet for me. While I looked forward to going home and being back in the land of open internet, I really fell in love with the city over the summer. The people, the food, the culture, it all made this summer one that I know I will never forget and helped me grow. This trip was my first time back in China in seven years and witnessing the amount that has changed was really incredible. Even though I grew up in America, I felt a sense of belonging in China that was very comforting. Aside from the professional experience, being in Shanghai helped me reconnect with my Chinese roots and be proud of my heritage. My mandarin also improved – while it is my first language, I forgot a lot when I learned English. Being immersed in the environment helped me remember parts of the language that were buried deep in my brain.

 

While packing for my return, I could not believe that 11 weeks passed by so quickly. I made a bucket list for things I had to see, do, and eat during my last week. On one of the days, I walked over 18 miles around the city to try to complete this list. I don’t know when I may return to this amazing city again, but after this summer, I am much more interested in professional opportunities in China. Who knows, maybe one day I will return to Shanghai again for work.

-Zixuan Gao
MingJian, Chian

Dumela

Standing in front of a painting of the Botswana map

Standing in front of a painting of the Botswana map

“Dumela Mma. Dumela Rra.” These Setswana words were going to flow out of my mouth in an endless stream for the next eight weeks in Botswana. The Botswana culture is embellished with friendliness and courteous greetings are the order of the day. I soon realized that by greeting people in Setswana, not only were they more willing to help me with directions but were also open to engage in conversations that enhanced my cultural immersion experience.

 

The morning after my arrival in Botswana, the Botswana Upenn Partnership (BUP) driver came to pick me up for work. I was going to work at Stepping Stones International (SSI), which was approximately an hour by bus from Gaborone. After being dropped off at SSI, one co-worker introduced me to all the different departments which included, Education, Life Skills, Leadership and Community Mobilization and Advocacy. I quickly learnt that women were referred to as Ausi which is a Setswana word for Aunt. There were so many people and remembering their names was going to be difficult. Thanks to the pre-departure orientation, I had my notebook read to jot down a few notes so that I could remember everyone’s name.

 

I was assigned to be part of the Community Mobilization and Advocacy Department. I was going to work with Mmaabo, one of the project coordinators, on a dynamic program called Weaving A Web, to improve the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children ages 12+ through activities such as activities such as Aflateen (financial literacy), English literacy, Computer Literacy and life skills. The project was being supported by the European Union’s empowerment of Non-State Actors Program and in collaboration with different stakeholders. This project was being conducted in four villages namely Tutume, Goshwe, Otse and Bobonong where there was the highest teenage pregnancy prevalence and population of orphaned and vulnerable children. Therefore, my job included visiting the different schools across Botswana assisting monitoring and evaluation.

In Otse, one of the villages where Weaving A Web project is being implemented.

In Otse, one of the villages where Weaving A Web project is being implemented.

During my first week of work, my supervisor and I visited Moeding College which is located in Otse. I had the opportunity to see some of the baseline assessment forms that students completed at the beginning of the program. These assessments measured issues of self-esteem, vulnerability and suicidal ideation. My assignment for the following two weeks was to go through 140+ assessments and make recommendations of which program activities to place the recruited students in. I was informed that in a few days we were going to travel as far as villages close to the Zimbabwean border. We were going to use public transportation for all the trips.  Understanding a few Setswana words would come in handy for such trips. I was excited for an opportunity to interact with Batswana and share the same experience.

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Pictures from my first school visit: Moeding School

Pictures from my first school visit: Moeding School

-Mitchelle Matesva
Botswana UPenn Partnership, Botswana

Hello again America

If a year ago, someone was to tell me that I was going to spend my summer of freshman year in a country that speaks a language I don’t speak and understand, I would have told him/her that he/she joking. It has been an amazing, challenging and unique ten weeks of my life. I’m happy I decided to spend my freshman summer in Mozambique but now I’m back home.

Everything seems to be new again, just like about a year ago when I first came to America from Botswana. The traffic is fast, and everyone seems to be in a hurry. The tall skyscrapers are a bit intimidating but nevertheless beautiful. The air is not as fresh as the one in Mozambique, probably because there are a few industries emitting polluted air in Mozambique. The weather also seems to be harsher than Mozambiquan weather (I think Mozambique has the perfect weather in the world, it is always nice and chilly.) But, it is good to be back home. The convenience of everything is amazing, I can walk to Wawa anytime and get whatever I went. I can call an Uber to take me to anywhere. Once you leave the country and spend a summer in a country like Mozambique you get to appreciate all the developments you have in your country. In Mozambique for me to go anywhere, I had to share a small bus that is supposed to carry sixteen people with around twenty-five people. There is no convenience store, by 8pm all the shops would be closed down for business.

I went to Mozambique unaware of the many challenges that I was going to face. But, it is these challenges that molded me into a better person. Being in Mozambique has helped me adjust to different situations and ultimately adapt to them. Moreover, I have learned how to interact and make friends with people who don’t share the same culture and language with me. I have learned how to efficiently and effectively use a limited amount of resources. There was limited amount of internet that we had, so there was not enough data to just stay on the internet the whole day, this forced me to prioritize. There was also a limited amount of water, so I also had to keep my showers very short and generally use water carefully. A lot of resources were limited, like transportation, electricity, and technology.

I’m happy that I was able and will continue to positively impact small business owners in Maxixe, Mozambique. As I continue to work with Shaun while I’m in America, the ultimate goal is to ensure that small entrepreneurs in Maxixe have access to mentorship and financial assistance.

From holding a newborn baby in my hands to attending a traditional wedding, my time in Mozambique was full of heart-warming and exciting moments. It was a wonderful experience that I would not trade for anything. Would I go Maxixe, Mozambique again? Definitely, without even thinking about it.

-George Managobi
YCenter, Mozambique

Welcome Home

Often I find myself bringing up my internship experience in conversations with family and friends. I enjoy recounting my experience but telling friends about my adventures abroad makes me miss Portugal. Adjusting to life at home has not been difficult but it is strange to go back to old routines and abandon some of those I made while in Braga.

I have experienced some reverse culture shock. I find myself saying “obrigada” instead of “thank you” since I have grown so accustomed to using the phrase. I also find myself using ‘military time’ (24-hour clock) even though it is not widely used in the US. However, one Portuguese practice that has not been difficult to abandon is that of chronic tardiness. In Portugal, if a person schedules an appointment for 9:00 AM, they aren’t expected to arrive by that time. To the contrary, it is assumed that a person will arrive fifteen to thirty minutes later than a scheduled appointment! At times it was frustrating to wait for colleagues or friends to arrive somewhere, so I’m glad to return to the US where it’s more customary to arrive on-time.

The difference between US standards of punctuality and running on ‘Portuguese time’ highlights one of the starkest contrasts between Portugal (and most of southern Europe) and the US – in American society there is a sense of urgency and haste that dominates daily life, but in Portugal there appears to be a more laid-back atmosphere. Whereas the American worker might arrive to work at 7:30 AM, scarf down their lunch in 15 minutes, and rush to complete their assignments to leave early for the day, the Portuguese employee wouldn’t have such a hurried routine. They might arrive a bit later to work, enjoy a longer lunch with colleagues, and even stay later at work to accomplish their tasks. Why? The employee would want to get a good night sleep and enjoy a hearty breakfast before heading to their job. The employee would want to enjoy their meal with colleagues and have lively conversation over lunch and a coffee break. Finally, the employee would stay at work later than usual to finish their assignments so they could go home and spend their remaining time relaxing with family (rather than finishing work at home or having nagging thoughts about their unfinished projects). I remember a Portuguese friend commenting on how there was a lack of fast food restaurants in Braga because the Portuguese sought to enjoy quality meals and quality time. “Life is short” she said, “we want to enjoy life’s moments including the time we spend eating a meal. You can’t get that at McDonalds or Burger King”.

A part of me enjoyed the more calm and relaxed culture of Braga, but at times I missed a more fast-paced American environment. Regardless, I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience a way of life that was different from my own.

I’m thankful for my internship experience because it introduced me to new people, gave me an opportunity to hone my research skills, and introduced me to an alternative way of living.

-Elizabeth Sanchez
Universidade do Minho Escola de Direito, Portugal

Feeling Settled?

A few weeks into my time in Guatemala, this trip has started to feel less like a vacation and more like a real home. With orientation complete, and our Penn mentors having left us to explore the summer ourselves, I have settled into a comfortable daily routine:

I wake up around 7am without needing an alarm, a normally very unusual thing for me. Workdays go one of two ways: I either stay in the Hospitalito Atitlan,doing more office-type work like data entry and online research, or partake in field-work around the lake. To go into the more exciting of the two – field-work involves different parts of the diabetes program: jornadas (diabetes detections), clubs(meetings for those who have already been diagnosed), and charlas (educational talks about diabetes in schools). For our work this summer, we are to evaluate each aspect of the diabetes program. At the end of our 10 weeks, we will present our findings to the board of the hospital via a verbal presentation and later a written report.

To get to the different locations where the jornadas, clubs, and charlas are located, the most common modes of public transportation include lanchas (boats) and fletes (pickup trucks where up to twenty people could be piled next to each other).

Riding with Karina in the back of a pickup truck for a charla in Santa Clara

Riding with Karina in the back of a pickup truck for a charla in Santa Clara

 

Diabetes jornada in Sololá

Diabetes jornada in Sololá

As we begin to get a grasp on these daily activities, our 4-person group from Penn is able to split up and attend different things by ourselves. And, although we all created protocols together for the evaluation of the diabetes programs, we are splitting up the activities to have one leader for each one. I have decided to be the head-person for the charlas. I am really excited to visited lots of schools around the lake and help teach the next generation about how to prevent (and how to help their family members with) such a chronic illness.

But Guatemala isn’t all hard work. Every weekend brings a new adventure:

Kayaking with the Penn crew

Kayaking with the Penn crew

 

Riding a pretty terrifying ferris wheel at the San Pedro feria with MaryCruz

Riding a pretty terrifying ferris wheel at the San Pedro feria with MaryCruz

 

Hiking Pacaya Volcano

Hiking Pacaya Volcano

-Natalie Koch
Guatemala Health Initiative, Guatemala