Oregon State University student, Courtney, offers advice for future interns about how to re-integrate back into life in the United States after she completed an international internship with Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia.
Traveling somewhere new is difficult because you have urges to explore and ask everything, but you want to be careful because of fear: fear of new things, new people, unknown places, and unknown circumstances. I found that I overcame these fears easily because of the work culture of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and because of the Namibian culture. While you are there, people are interested in who you are and where you come from: your friends, your family, your pets, and your life. You do not feel alone because there is always someone around to ask you for stories and then tell theirs in response.
For three months, I had been around the same people every hour of every day. Thus, we had our own culture around our common interests and around our work. After my internship, I felt confident in my ability to work at the facility: complete my tasks, work with other interns and with staff members, and work with the animals at the center. What I had not expected was the difficulty in coming back to the United States. Immediately, I felt uncomfortable, because of the cold weather and other reasons. I was surrounded by new places with unrecognizable faces. I had never been concerned about traveling, but I was unsure if I was ready to come back to my school life.
Honestly, it is best to approach re-integration slowly: watching, being patient, and answering questions fully. At first, when people asked me how my trip was, I told them that it was great and that it felt weird being home, expecting them to ask follow up questions, but they do not know what to ask or how to ask it. If you answer honestly and openly, no matter how long you talk for, you feel a piece of the experience with you still. To overcome this, I created a scrapbook of all my favorite memories and pictures from my trip, which I will always have with me. Another difficulty I had with being home was that people were more cautious of me than I was of them because they had expected me to change drastically. To resolve this, I told many friends and family members the truth: I had not made an extreme change; I became more open-minded and more straightforward and honest.
Now, the only issues I currently have are re-familiarizing myself with being a college student: going to all my classes, having more down-time, completing homework, going back to my previous job. I was used to working with my hands, talking to the public, and speaking with people in my aspired career. It took approximately two weeks to practice and remember my study habits as a student. To expedite this process, I have continued to write schedules, to-do lists, and use a daily calendar to keep track of all assignments, tests, and extra-curricular activities. If I had any advice for future interns, I would suggest making the term after your internship full of courses you are interested in and take less credits than you usually do to give yourself time to relax and find your place again.