Students Without Borders is a WUSC and CECI program that enables Canadian university and college students to participate in exciting, volunteer learning opportunities in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Home, Sweet Home

July 29, 2013

I find it somewhat odd to be writing this on my own computer, sitting at my own desk, in my own home. Granted, I have only been gone 3 short months, and not much has changed around here. But somehow, I feel I have been gone for years.

I formally ended my internship with MayaWorks last week. The usual goodbye parties ensued, shared with friends and coworkers, and the last few days disappeared in a commotion of packing, re-packing, last minute souvenir shopping and one last attempt to fit everything into a single backpack. I managed to schedule a traditional Mayan ceremony with a coworker´s brother, a spiritual guide, so as to see what the Mayan spiritual forces have in store for the future. But those details, I will keep to myself.

During the last week of internship, I realized that it was no longer a question of finishing projects, but of setting up the guidelines for completion of these projects by others once I left. It seemed as though time had been compressing, every day bringing new challenges and less time to sort them out.

I started my internship with a work plan. Another volunteer I met around that time commented humorously on its complexity, and how three months could hardly be enough time to finish it all. I laughed it off, confident that I would accomplish everything with time left over at the end! Granted, at the end of the line, work was quick and as efficient as the worst internet connection of all time would allow. But, limitations started to test my patience. Printing offices never printed by the expected deadline, head offices required approval and were slow to answer requests, funding was irregular, artisans weren´t as productive as I had expected or rather estimated, etc. With the last week looming, we had four stores waiting for items that we didn´t have in stock (we never successfully managed to develop a stockpile), a few items still at the printers, letters that hadn´t been sent, orders that hadn´t been written. But as another visitor once told me: ´´TIG´´. This Is Guatemala.

Looking back on my internship, I am honestly proud of what I was able to accomplish. My particular position allowed me great flexibility in terms of time and selection of the work I wished to do. As the only intern in an office consisting of 2 administrators and 1 accountant, I was allowed to work independently on projects that we agreed could help the association. I designed 2 pamphlets, 1 new business card, new packaging material, 1 promotional poster, 2 commercial posters for our vendors, and more. The flexibility and independence I enjoyed allowed me to create designs according to my imagination. This greatly helped speed up the process and allowed me to learn how to navigate new programs such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Photoshop. Of course, designs were inspired and tweaked by my coworkers and the head office but I tremendously enjoyed the creative opportunities nonetheless.

Other tasks such as creating data banks, mailing lists, finding new vendors and producers and selling (door-to-door style) our services to new stores and hotels were tedious but nevertheless valuable. Commercial communication is nerve-wracking, especially on the selling side. However, I developed networking and marketing skills and left MayaWorks with new communications tools useful in many different circumstances. We have one new potential international client, and several new vendors in Antigua. The challenge now will be for the artisans to keep up the pace of the new inflowing orders.

Now back at home, I can say unequivocally that I do not regret embarking on this journey. International internships may not be the idealistic, life-changing opportunities portrayed by some. But neither did I ever have these expectations. Nonetheless, it has been an amazing opportunity in every regard: professionally, academically and personally. I will definitely recommend this endeavor to other students, with the caveat that what we really get out of an internship grows from what we put into it. That is entirely in our hearts, heads and hands.