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  • Kate 5:19 pm on July 25, 2011 Permalink  

    “Just” an Intern… 

    How many of us have heard those words? He or she is “just an intern.” Now, my own situation is a bit different, but it’s still a similar attitude. Since I’m “just an intern,” people didn’t think I was capable of certain work at first… they learned. Since I’m “just an intern” that doesn’t get paid it was assumed I wouldn’t be as motivated… they learned. Since I’m “just an intern” I can’t have transportation to Ivory Coast for my flight… I learned! 🙂
    We all have things to learn… many organizations which “employ” (using that term loosely here) interns need to make their other employees aware that the word intern is not a dirty word, it doesn’t mean we are less capable human beings, and most of all it doesn’t give people the right to treat us as gophers and errand boys!
    In conversations with my fellow interns this summer I have often heard statements such as: “If I’m so incompetent, then why did they hire me?” “How can I edit parts of a report that I’m not allowed to see?” “How can someone else take credit for my work?” “Why don’t they give me anything substantial to do?” “Why do they treat me like an idiot who is only good for getting their coffee?” “How is it that I’m supposed to GAIN experience again?” AND “Can anyone explain to me why I’m working for free, in fact paying AU, AND being treated poorly?!”

    However, as interns we must also learn to be humble. After all even if we are capable people, with education, many of us do not have the experience of our coworkers and for that we too must put in our time. However fair or unfair it seems… I, because I’m an expat but “only” an intern, do not get a car to take me to the Ivory Coast (where my flight leaves from) next week. So, the less recommended and by far less convenient route of commercial transportation, is the route I will be taking… for good or bad… because I’m “just” an intern!
    I have chosen to be humble and accept my “fate” as a “lowly” intern for the time being and what that means working for DRC here in West Africa. Assuming every one of my predecessors (ok, not here, but in a more typical situation) has been here and has climbed out of it to be something more than “just” an intern… I too will one day graduate and move beyond the place in which I, and many of my classmates, find ourselves.

    • Marie Spaulding 6:17 pm on July 26, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      I am sorry that you and your fellow interns feel as if you have been treated poorly. It can be challenging to help an employer see how you, as an intern, can use your considerable skills to benefit the employer if he/she will only allow you to work on substantive projects. I am sure that you talked with your employer more than once to make sure he/she knew you were ready to assume more responsibility and to work with other staff members to tackle tasks. As you say, when you have graduated and you work with interns, I trust that you will remember your experience and spend time as a mentor sharing your knowledge and involving the intern in project work.

    • Francine Blume 2:53 pm on July 27, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      You really hit a lot of nails right on the head! And intern has to have a really good balance of humility and self respect. You don’t want to be walked on, but at the same time, you know there are others with more experience. But no one should ever treat another person as “just an intern.” And intern supervisors should really make sure that the rest of the people in the office understand that. Their role is to mentor and to help teach, not to give scut work. I’m sorry about the transportation issue, but I hope none of these other things came up for you. No intern, paid or unpaid, should have to deal with any of those other things. I would hope interns would feel comfortable talking to their supervisors about issues but if not, please know you can talk to us here at the Career Center because we can advocate on your behalf. And trust us, we tell all our employers that they really should be paying their interns.

    • Jennifer Carignan 1:04 pm on July 28, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Kate, I agree with what Marie and Francine have already said. All I’ll add is to remember that while you might not be able to control folks who lack respect for their student employees, you CAN control the way you present yourself in this challenging situation. I have complete confidence that you’re doing this in your internship and hope that other students are as well. Regardless of how things end up here, you can look back on this experience knowing that you handled this situation with professionalism, probably learned a lot along the way and will treat your future interns with the respect they deserve!

  • Kate 3:41 pm on July 12, 2011 Permalink  

    NGO Nation 

    Liberia is a country that has become completely dependent and in many ways run by NGOs. The negative side of humanitarian aid (dependency, unrealistic expectations, etc.) is very easy to observe here. And, while sitting in a meeting this morning I came up with the following list of observations over my time here:

    If you work for an NGO (in Liberia), then you:

    • are considered fortunate, blessed, lucky even
    • live above the level of the “commoner”
    • are accustomed to riding in a private car – which is not subject to stops and bribe requests
    • have money
    • are seen as an “official”
    • live in town (not in a village)
    • wear western style clothes
    • have spent time on a computer
    • speak, read, and write (sort of) English
    • have a cell phone
    • are seen as educated
    • have a bank account
    • have expat friends
    • have children who go to school
    • have parents who you take care of
    • are accustomed to going to an office
    • know a lot of people

    AND if you’re a foreigner who works for an NGO (in Liberia), then you:

    • will be invited to expat exclusive get togethers
    • will be listened to at a meeting
    • will be given preference (front seat, best and first food, etc)
    • WILL find yourself being treated like royalty in remote communities
    • will be the subject of whispers & gossip everywhere you go
    • are often referred to as “bossman” or “bosslady”
    • are seen as VERY educated and VERY rich
    • often feel like the center of attention, even when you shouldn’t

    NGOs are commonly seen as even “higher” or more powerful than the government because they have access to funds and actually make things happen in a timely manner…

    My coworker asked me yesterday: “What happens when DRC leaves us here? What will we do? We need to start thinking ahead…” I couldn’t agree with him more! A member of our emergency team also made the comment to me: “you know the hardest part of our job? leaving.”

    I don’t really have any answers… just offering some food for thought!

  • Kate 11:54 am on July 5, 2011 Permalink  

    When Cultures Clash… 

    In the work place it is inevitable that different cultures will, at some point, present a few obstacles and stumbling blocks. Living and working in Liberia has been an absolutely amazing experience so far. I have formed a bond with my coworkers such that many of them came to my house to celebrate the 4th of July with me last night!
    That being said…
    The gossip and resulting drama in the office is ABSURD! What makes it worse is that when they want to talk about me, or just plain don’t want me to understand, they switch to a regional African dialect called Mano. I had an incredibly frustrating meeting with the bossman yesterday – I have a difficult time with people trying to control my independence and he seems to think he is my acting “father” here.
    Being the only foreigner in the office has it’s pros and cons. For me, I’m finding the challenges of Liberian culture to be having huge effects on my ability to penetrate the day to day workings of the office. It doesn’t help that I’m just here temporarily. I’m learning and adapting to the best of my ability and by those who wish to recognize that, it is appreciated. They are a truly great staff, that have nothing but the best intentions for me, I believe.

    However,when cultures clash, there is often no easy answer. Both “sides” tend to get frustrated and have a difficult time understanding where the other is coming from! My best advice is don’t give up. If they keep trying, so should you… and vice versa!
    This is not an issue unique to my situation… I have friends working in D.C. that often face similar cultural differences and struggles with their bosses and coworkers. In our global society, it is inevitable and we must, therefore, figure out the best way we can deal with it!

    Sometimes agreeing to disagree and realizing that each person sees things from his/her own perspective is the very best one can do!

    Fourth of July Festivities Pics:

    • Marie Spaulding 8:27 pm on July 5, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Kate – you are learning skills you will use all the time. I wish I had been in a situation like yours earlier in my life…:)

  • Kate 11:08 am on June 28, 2011 Permalink  

    To go, or not to go… 

    That is the constant question of an intern (at least in Liberia)! When your boss says, “there’s such and such meeting, you can feel free to attend,” You should go. When a co-worker says “you should come with us to such and such event,” you should go. When people invite you for lunch, you should go. When you’re invited our for drinks with your colleagues, you should go. When there’s a chance to see something/be a part of something you’ve never done before, you should go.

    What if you’re tired?
    What if you’re not in the mood?
    What if you don’t like one or more of you coworkers/boss?

    My advice: GO anyway! Put on a happy face and just GO!

    • Jennifer Carignan 5:59 pm on June 29, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      An important lesson for interns AND permanent employees!

  • Kate 9:29 am on June 21, 2011 Permalink  

    World Refugee Day 

    UNHCR sponsors World Refugee across the globe every year on June 20th. As DRC’s focus is refugees and we work closely with UNHCR here in Liberia, AND considering the current refugee situation here in Nimba County, it was imperative to commemorate the day by hosting an event. Myself and two other field staff officers were put on the task last Thursday. It was a whirlwind pulling it all together, and it wasn’t perfect, but I think we did a pretty darn good job! We had T-shirts and a banner printed with this year’s theme “One Refugee without Hope is too many!” As well as arranged and organized with a community, Gbeivonwea, which is currently hosting upwards of 1,000 Ivorian refugees, to have our event there. Wonda, Maurice, and I headed out with our hilarious and life-of-the party driver, Tomas, on Sunday. After a long, bumpy ride (and picking up the goat), we arrived to sleep on wooden planks in a mission shelter in the community. We made all the “caps” by flashlight, and decided to do the rest in the morning. The festivities were scheduled to start at 9am, so we were all up and moving by 6 am. We put on a parade, a “program” (which involves a lot of speeches (including have the district superintendent as a guest speaker), cultural dancing and singing, etc.), lunch (goat stew, chicken feet, and rice), and a soccer match between the community and the refugees! It was truly a great experience for me to participate in everything and I’m grateful that DRC asked me to be a part of the team! Not everything went smoothly, and there were definite bumps along the road, but the DRC staff handled themselves with grace and poise and I was glad to be one of them. Here are some pics from the event!

  • Kate 3:12 pm on June 15, 2011 Permalink  


    I don’t know about you, but I’ve never particularly liked acronyms… if you know them and are working with people who are all aware of their meanings, then they’re great. However, more times than not, I find the opposite to be the case, where acronyms cause confusion and take more time to explain and clarify than if we just used the lengthy description to begin with!

    Since starting this internship in Liberia with the DRC (Danish Refugee Council), I have had to spend countless time and energy deciphering acronyms while people are talking, from my notes, and from reports/documents! I have looked them up online, mistaken one for another, asked my colleagues (who usually know or have an idea at least), etc.

    So let’s see how you do… give yourself a little quiz! These are just from the last document I was sent (about 25 pgs.):

    UNSCR (United Nations Security Council Resolution)
    INGO (International Non Governmental Organization)
    CBO (Community Based Organization)
    RHPP (Regional Head of Programs and Policies)
    RHFA (Regional Head of Finance and Administration)
    AU (African Union)
    EWS (Early Warning System)
    WA (West Africa)

    I think that my being new to this area also plays into the confusion as almost ALL of these acronyms are new to me! I have a list going in my notebook… to be able to remind myself!

    Anyone else have this issue?
    Or is it just my own personal vendetta against ACRONYMS?!

  • Kate 3:23 pm on June 13, 2011 Permalink  

    The Storm… 

    Saturday started out as such a lovely day, as I finally got to read (for fun!) outside under the scorching sun and fresh air… I had even managed to fall asleep for a moment and then the big fat rain drops started to fall on my forehead and I woke with a start! So, I quickly moved my spot to a chair on the covered porch and continued to read while the skies opened and dumped out rain… it was quite cool and pleasant… until the storm began.
    The winds picked up so quickly and the sky darkened at such an alarming rate (that it almost scared me), so I hurried inside. There are no window panes in our house, just screens… so the wind howled through the whole house, knocking things over, blowing rain into the house, and it was unbelievably loud as there are metal roofs here.
    As I sat there trying to continue reading, I just kept contemplating what else could go wrong… when the TV satellite blew… then the generator… yikes! Then my thoughts turned to the guys on that terribly muddy, pot-hole filled road on the way to our house… no good. AND THEN, the thought just hit me out of nowhere… “What about all the refugees in their tents and temporary housing structures in the camps?!” It was awful as I sat there and just imagined what it must be like for them… the kids must have been so scared…

    When I’m at home in the U.S. storms never scare me. I’m not the type of person that worries, I just curl up and watch a movie. I couldn’t ignore the storm here. More than that, I couldn’t ignore those less fortunate, out there exposed to the elements in the harshest, most vulnerable way… the Ivorian refugee camps are within an hour drive from my house. But what could I do? Nothing. Sometimes we really are powerless.

    But sometimes… we are not.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Edward Everett Hale:
    “I am only one, but still I am one.
    I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
    Because I cannot do everything,
    I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

    Let us not refuse the something (whether big or small) that each one of us CAN do… for other human beings!

  • Kate 9:16 am on June 10, 2011 Permalink  

    Construction Supervisor I am not… 

    So, I was asked to go along on a field visit to “supervise” two construction projects yesterday… out of my element? I would say so! However, I found the whole day quite interesting and learned a lot. These NGO generalists or managers really have to know quite a lot about a great deal of different areas – construction being one of them! Here are some pics from the day!

  • Kate 5:41 pm on June 8, 2011 Permalink  

    Click me… 


    Click on this link from DRC’s website to get a little background… Nimba county is where I am. Food and Sanitation issues are top priorities for us in these host communities!

  • Kate 3:47 pm on June 7, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , Liberia,   

    So, I guess I have a maid… 

    Or a housekeeper, or whatever you want to call her… I call her Albertha. I arrived in Monrovia, Liberia on Friday. And after a 7 hour dreadfully bumpy, but expectedly so, jeep ride I arrived to my “base” here in Sannequellie, close to the border with Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

    Albertha greeted my host, the head of the field office here, a middle-aged Ugandan man named Jackson, and I at the door. She proceeded to help carry in our luggage, food supply, and the like from the jeep. Dinner was cooked and covered on the table. My room was made up with a fresh sheet and towel laid out for me. Albertha informed me that she works at the house from 7am to 5pm everyday and weekends when there are special guests. This morning I found out she walks an hour each way to work… the house where I’m privileged to stay that is… to cook for me, do my laundry, and clean up after me.

    (More …)

    • Francine Blume 1:35 pm on June 10, 2011 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Really interesting first entry. Thank you for your honesty and for trying to share both sides of the issue.

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