I met Eh Nay in the lobby of Crystal Palace, a hotel just a stone’s throw away from the Parami Institute in Yangon, Myanmar, where I serve as an educational adviser.
I slowly sipped a glass of water and listened closely to a passionate account of his international internship with KESAN along the Burma-Thai border.
Eh Nay Thaw is part of a group of nine interns from Centre College living and working in Southeast Asia this summer. As a former refugee, he acutely comprehends the value of this particular opportunity, close to the camp where he grew up. Like many of his peers, Eh Nay could never have afforded this experience to travel across the world and serve. Thankfully, the Henry Luce Foundation’s LIASE implementation grant has given him wings to make the journey.
Research on study and work abroad is still in its infancy, but practical wisdom (and statistical inquiry) indicate that travel with purpose, with intentionality yields superior results. The commodified fly-in, fly-out consumption of a foreign place is not only inadequate, but can also be harmful. Strange and Gibson’s recent study of transformative and experiential learning in study abroad once more confirms the developmental effectiveness of intense, focused and reflective experiences over 18-days long (see article). I would go even further: I am convinced that study abroad should no longer be seen as an end in itself, but the springboard to more meaningful and impactful internships abroad.
Eh Nay walked me through his most recent town hall meeting. A native Karen speaker, he was tasked with sharing information with the local villagers and their leaders about the legal, financial, environmental and political repercussions of entering into deals with corporations actively angling for their resources. I asked him how he balanced his responsibility to remain neutral with his fears and obvious misgivings about lopsided contracts.
His answer revealed the kind of compassion and professional maturity that educators hope students gain from international internships. Eh Nay lamented how a nearby sacred mountain had already been mined and scalped. “At the end of the day, though,” he explained, “we respect the opinions and decisions of the village elders. I am there only to provide information.”
Learning how to experience fully the conflicted feelings of fear and pain contained by a sacred respect for locals’ autonomy is a complicated endeavor.
Internships like Eh Nay’s fast-track students’ emotional growth, maturity and professionalism.