An intern discusses things she has learned while working in Haiti
Emily Guebert is a water, sanitation, and hygiene intern serving with Samaritan’s Purse in Haiti.The Samaritan’s Purse internship program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to use their skills to impact the world in a tangible way. Find out more here.
If you decide to intern in a developing country, it’s likely that people will tell you about the things you’ll have to live without. It’s true that you might be without indoor plumbing, air conditioning, chocolate, or other comforts, but it’s also equally true that you’ll find you may not need most of those things as much as you previously thought.
I’m not suggesting that you’ll become a minimalist or that your desires for a juicy cheeseburger will suddenly diminish, but it’s a refreshing opportunity to see what you do and don’t need to survive.
When else will you be able to pack up and live in another country for five months? It’s easy to do when you’ve recently graduated and haven’t landed a full-time job yet.
Be honest with yourself. How many times a day do you look in the mirror? And when you do, what are you looking at? Oftentimes we tend to look at our visible flaws and think of ways to cover them up or reasons to be embarrassed by them. When I first came to Haiti, I quickly forewent the use of makeup. Most days in the field are the opposite of glamorous, and putting extra gunk on my face wasn’t practical.
Here I was, doing less to “improve” myself, but I started noticing that I was feeling more confident about myself. It took weeks for me to realize that it was because there were so few opportunities for me to look at myself and analyze what was wrong. Granted, there have been several times where I’ve caught sight of myself and noticed my hair looking like a squirrel’s nest or food in my teeth—never a good feeling—but for the most part I’ve loved being able to love myself more for who I am and not for what I look like.
The Western way is not the only way. This may seem obvious, but interning in another country provides opportunities for cultural experience that are unavailable to most. When you vacation you see the sites at face value—bopping around with camera in one hand and guide book in the other.
When you work abroad, you experience far more of the culture—food, housing, music, language, and traditions. Unless you plan on taking a five-month vacation, it’s nearly impossible to otherwise experience these types of things in so much depth.
Along with local food, there is almost inevitably the downfall of your digestive system. Not even a week after I came to Haiti, I had the worst food poisoning that I’ve ever experienced. I had been in the country for so little time that I didn’t even know anyone! It’s a very humbling experience being flat on your back or lying by the toilet and your boss (you know, the person you’re trying to make a good first impression on) comes to take care of you.
You will see God in a new way. This could mean it’s a season of dryness or a season of abundance. One thing that has been on my heart is that God doesn’t take you places that he calls you to and leave you unprepared. Remember there is a reason you are where you are, even if you don’t know what that reason is.
Not being able to communicate is like losing one of your senses. The primary language spoken here is Haitian Creole, which is loosely based off of French. When I first stepped off the plane, I was asked “koman ou ye?” (How are you?) In my ignorance, I gave my name in response. Since then, I’ve at least learned how to answer that question, but I’ve also found I can communicate with things just as simple as a smile.
You’re away from family, friends, and social media. On one hand, it’s important to communicate with your friends and family, but on the other hand, it’s beneficial to be present where you are. I’ve found that even though we have Internet access, turning off my device has helped me form real relationships here. I’ve also worked to get to know myself in a new way. Who are you when you’re away from the influences of family, friends, and familiarity?
Upon arriving in Haiti, I found a community of people who, like me, had left things for a cause that they believe in. This fact helps form a bond. As I’ve been working in the water, sanitation, and hygiene department, I’ve found that I’m not alone in my wishes for this country, I’m not alone in the struggles of being in a foreign land, and I’m not alone in my celebrations either. It’s an honor to work with the type of people who pause life and pack up for a few months.
I love a good photograph as much as the next person, but in all reality, it’s never going to fully capture everything—the smells, the sounds, the emotions you’re feeling, or even the full view of what you’re seeing. And that’s what makes experiences worthwhile.