When the word internship is tossed around one thinks of memorizing a coffee order and fetching bagels with cream cheese. Unfortunately, this may be one of those misconceptions that could deter you from taking a chance to differentiate yourself from the masses. Every internship can offer a different experience dependent upon the industry, location and what you put forth to make of it. If you were going to take an internship why wouldn’t you gain the most out of the experience and challenge yourself to one that is international? That’s how I decided to not only spice up my resume but to gain insight of what “I’m made of” when presented to circumstances outside of the normal realm of my routine life. To come to the decision to leave my comfort zone took a lot of thought and preparation, as that isn’t a decision to make lightly. This type of decision could be one that could potentially boost your self-confidence tremendously as you know what you are able to overcome or break you if you bend to the challenges. Those challenges can start before you even get on that plane. For me, my friends were quite negative about my decision to take an internship overseas for reasons that were completely unrealistic. This type of negativity really colored the situation and resulted in mixed feelings about the choice I had made to come to Thailand. I thought was going to be a massive support group dwindled down to only a few that helped me see the benefits that would come by accepting this opportunity. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a new culture and how a business can operate there. With that mindset of adventure I uprooted my life, packed it away in boxes, and moved away from the negativity to start anew, everyone comes to Thailand for a reason right?
The first real challenge is about absorbing as much information as possible in the length of a two-month internship to be able to take those experiences back to Canada. The world is becoming so interconnected many corporations are looking to add global experienced employees to their work force. The biggest issue with internships is that they aren’t necessarily cheap, they are like a form of education; there are costs to be expected. Those include airfare, meals, usually a third party to facilitate the internship and sometimes accommodation dependent upon the contract, all with no incoming salary. What is not stated is what you can gain through the internship, such as a glance into what a different business culture is like, opportunities to pick up another language, and the opportunity to immerse yourself into a different culture. Its hard to put a price on the gained life skills that you can learn from working abroad and experiencing personal growth as you go through the stages of culture shock – as it happens to everyone.
The first phase of culture shock is the Honeymoon stage because you idealize the host culture and your anticipating exciting new experiences. When I first arrived at the rendezvous point in Bangkok thoughts such as “I am never going back home” were running through my head as I went from temple to temple and to other various tourist sites that showed the history and beauty of the culture. Those thoughts and feelings continued as I became closer with all the teachers gathering to take their certification in Hua Hin. These feelings were fostering before the orientation and internship had even started. The orientation segment of the internship is vital for success in a foreign country as it gives you a crash course in the “do’s & don’ts”, the realities versus expectations, and language lessons for minimum communication. This presentation encouraged the feeling of excitement and openness to the culture of what it has to offer. Migrating into learning the tasks of the internship showed how varied the business cultures in Thailand were from the business culture back home in Canada. For starters the business culture here in Thailand is much more laid back. For example, employees work outdoors around a table, and business attire is not enforced. Companies in Canada impose strict professional guidelines in comparison, whether you saw clients or not, and you either had a cubicle or an office that was secluded. The difference between the two scenarios is that one allowed for easy collaborative work and the other presents more challenges. In the beginning, seeing this type of business practice was a breath of fresh air, in the beginning, as it was apart of the rush of positive emotions occurring from that honeymoon phase.
I surprisingly do not overly enjoy the outdoors to the point that I would want sit outside to work. That exhilaration of an outdoor office slowly dwindled, as I become a sitting duck for the mosquitoes and flies that seemed to eat through my bug spray. I would say this was the starting point of phase two, irritability and hostility towards the host culture as you feel that it is actually inferior to your own. The severity of the hatred depends upon the individual. I found myself getting severely irritated when I became extremely itchy from the bugs, so instead of letting it ruin my days I chose to work inside. I have also experienced hostile feelings toward the public transportation system within Hua Hin. In Canada I had my own vehicle so I was always in control about getting places after work. Here there is a bus system, Songtows, that run on “Thai time” (no actual set schedule) and they basically drive up and down the street picking up or dropping people off. There have been numerous days where I have gotten off work, walked to the main road to catch a songtow and anywhere from 1 to 5 of them would pass me without stopping. Trust me I was doing my absolute best to wave them down. Some drivers were even waving at me as they drove by with a smile on their face! At times when I was walking back to my apartment, praying for a songtow to drive by and stop, I caught myself thinking they were all conspiring against me to make me walk the ridiculous amount of blocks home and were having a laugh about it at my expense. Now we all know this is crazy and completely 110% false – it has just been luck of the draw that they don’t stop, they are on break, or the bus was packed and just couldn’t fit one more foreigner on it. This has been a prime example of how phase two of culture shock can affect you on a business and personal level. There are many other feelings that you can experience while going through this phase as well, such as; boredom, withdrawal from people, feelings of isolation even when your surrounded by people, excessive sleeping, longing to be home and a critical attitude. I have only touched on the conspiracy about the songtows but there have been other symptoms of this phase that I have gone through. Overall, if you continue to force yourself to look for the silver lining, for example walking home was good for my health, then you can progress into phase three.
The gradual adjustment into the culture will begin after you start feeling more relaxed, develop a routine and gain a positive perspective on your experience. An internship is a small snapshot in your life’s timeline that can definitely give you an opportunity for different experiences. For starters I have a whole new
appreciation on being a foreigner in a place that is completely different from what you know. Canada is known for being a melting pot of diversity and not once did I ever think about how those immigrants felt
living in Canada outside of their norm. With this internship, I am living for a short period of time, what they would have gone through making me feel even more compassionate for the obstacles and feelings that they would have had. The gradual adjustment to Thailand’s culture started when my routine was established at work with work to keep me busy. I have become accustomed to the transportation system and am slowly picking up small bits of Thai to order meals and hold a three-sentence conversation – that’s a personal achievement. The adjustment period is very gradual though as I constantly flop from acceptance of my surroundings to feelings of being completely lost. Back home I could tell you the best places to eat and go for entertainment but the fun part about adjusting to a new place and culture is that you have no idea where those things are so you get to find them for yourself.
After you become “adjusted” you have adapted to differences and you are going through biculturalism, as you will feel a new sense of belonging and sensitivity to the host culture. Then when you go back home you may experience the last phase, re-entry shock as your home culture isn’t as normal anymore. This internship is only two months so its hard to say if I will become adapted to the extent I feel as though I belong and am one with the culture, and that may take years. The length of the internship has been long enough to experience the first two stages and a touch of the third on both a personal and business level, which is incredible. This opportunity allowed me the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that I would have otherwise never experienced beyond a tourist perspective. Even deeper, there are opportunities to gain insight into yourself, your values and beliefs, and your cultural identity. It assisted in broadening my perspectives on the world, as I have met various people, experienced a lifestyle and standard of living much different than my own, and had the ability to explore and observe the ongoing of a different part of the world. This type of adventure can give you a chance to gain independence and a greater level of self-sufficiency as you learn to navigate challenges. Challenges can range from language barriers to learning the bus route. The internship presents its own and outside opportunities, which will set you apart from others in a business position back in your home country. Who knew all of those amazing things could come from one concept, an internship, usually dismissed based on the costs, which is unfortunate as you shouldn’t put a price on the personal growth that can benefit you in so many different aspects. I know I have no regrets.