Survive Your Summer Internship Abroad!

By Vicky Santoso

Elizabeth Whelan, FPAN student, in Kenya

Are you one of many Friedman students traveling abroad for an internship this summer? If so, here is advice from previous interns to better prepare you for the trip.

Learn as much as you can about the community before you go.  Learning about the community’s language, culture, food, and customs helps reduce the risk of miscommunication and hurt feelings. But, remember, you have a lot to learn when you get there too.

“Try to learn about the culture and history of the country before departure. South Africa has a very complex history, and it will not do to go there with misconceptions and stereotypes.”

Since it is impossible to master a language in a month, learn basic greetings.

Learn to say at least a few key phrases. People generally appreciate you making the effort. It will likely result in some good will, or at least some laughs.”

“It’s also good to learn direction. This is especially useful when directing auto-rickshaw drivers.”

Make sure you have all you need to do your work – laptop, travel plug converter, clipboards, and any necessary computer programs. You might also want to consider bringing your notes from relevant classes.  

Travel lightly.

“Pack only a few nice shirts and pants, a dress or two, comfy clothes and shoes.”

“Quick drying light clothes that could be washed and worn within hours on a hot day helped to avoid taking unnecessary bulk with me.”

In some countries, it may be wise to buy most of your clothing there.

“Clothing in India is inexpensive and my colleagues also appreciated my effort to wear local dress.” 

Sign up for assistance during emergencies.

Register at the US embassy to get assistance should there be any emergencies. Also, consider taking advantage of TuftsInternationalSOSprogram.

Be prepared for power outages.

“Power surges and load shedding is a daily (and nightly) occurrence. I suggest a good LED flashlight or headlamp and also surge protector for your laptop.”

“Make sure to charge your electronics when the generator is running!”

Listen to the people who know.

“If you’re working for an organization that has security rules,  follow them!  The rules are there for a reason, and if you stay within the bounds set for you, generally you’ll be fine”

“… by listening to advice and suggestions of the local staff, I never felt in danger.”

“Drivers know a lot, and you will probably spend a lot of time with them – make them your best friends.” 

Jackie MacLeod, FPAN student, studied wild food consumptions in Karamoja, Uganda.

Be careful with what you eat and drink.

Some previous interns cited getting sick from food and drink as their worst experience for the summer. Some recommended drinking only bottled water or buying a water filtration system, but others also advised against being too uptight about it. If you are not sure, consult with your local staff. Also, use your best judgment as one previous intern did:

“I’d recommend staying away from chai made from unpasteurized goat’s milk in the villages…” 

Pay attention to these money related advices.

“Put money in different pockets, and [if you are a female] consider keeping some in your bra! … it lowers your risk of getting all your money stolen at once.”

“Ask about rates of taxis before stepping in.  Sometimes they take advantage of tourists and charge double.”

“Double check the shipping policies of your host country, particularly with regard to declared customs value. I paid over 200 UDSD to pick up a box at FedEx. “

“Bring two ATM cards or bring traveler’s checks as a back-up in case your debit card doesn’t work.”

To avoid pilferage in airports,

“Use an airport plastic wrapping service, and avoid placing valuables in checked luggage.” 

Enjoy your time there!

“Favorite survival skills: being comfortable and making a complete fool of myself by singing a solo song in Swahili for a group of 60 adolescents.”

“Savor the mangoes.”

“Rest when you need to and have fun when you need to and you will be more useful to everyone.”

Jackie MacLeod, FPAN student, studied wild food consumptions in Karamoja, Uganda.

…that includes not taking yourself too seriously and being up for anything.

“Do your utmost to plan the details of your internship before you go, so you can be as prepared as possible… and then be prepared for all the details and the whole project to change.”

Vicky Santoso is a first year FPAN student and will be conducting a survey research of nutrition status of 0-2 year olds in Jakarta, Indonesia as a Dr. Elie J. Baghdady intern this summer.

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