It has been difficult for me to articulate my expectations going back to my first experience(s) in El Salvador (2008, 2009) because of the evolution I have undergone from a 19 year-old relatively ‘fresh’ student to the student I am now after having been able to experience some amazing opportunities leading up to my most recent 5-month Students for Development Internship in Honduras, and as I think about my expectations for my upcoming internship with RDRS in Bangladesh this May.
When, in 2008, I traveled to El Salvador with a group of students from the University my biggest expectation was simply that I wanted to ‘help’ people. I wanted to put some of the theories I had been studying in textbooks and tossing around in my classes into action, and I wanted to see a different part of the world. I’m not sure that before I left I quite realized how deeply I would be affected, and how this first introductory experience would have a very dramatic impact on the rest of my University education (and likely the rest of my life).
I had the opportunity to return to El Salvador in 2009. This time as a leader of a new group of students to the same communities I had visited the year before and instead of just wanting to help people, I wanted more. I wanted to start figuring out if the project in question was as efficient and effective as it could/should be, and I started to ask (a lot) of questions…about the project, about the Universities role in El Salvador, and about development in general. I expected to be able to make changes, to shape the program to be able to push the program to be as effective as possible and work with the communities involved the most efficiently.
In September 2010, I was accepted for a 5-month internship and set off for Honduras. Solo this time to work for five months with a non-governmental organization. This time I wanted to work for a longer period of time with an organization and be able to start utilizing some of the skills I had developed over the years. I expected to be able to share some of my techniques, skills, and ideas, while learning a whole lot at the same time, and I expected a practical application of everything I had studied and experienced over the last four years. At this point, my expectations were less about where I was going (I could handle the bugs, the violence, the food, the heat, the people, the changes) and more about taking more than a two-week vacation that again raised a lot of questions and left me without answers.
As I think about my expectations for this May, when I will be facilitating a 5-week program for four undergraduate students in Bangladesh with an NGO called RDRS, I hope that I will be able to share some of my experiences, some of my questions and help the students go ‘deeper’ and see beyond the resilience, kindness and smiling faces. To explore their own philosophies of development, and to realize that there is more to these experiences than returning to Canada feeling grateful for all that we have been given. That continuing the dialogue, that sharing stories, and pictures, and enthusiasm helps makes us all global citizens and that just because we are countries apart doesn’t mean that the connection (between people, between countries) needs to and should not end.