Internship Week 11: Thinking “International”

Last week I wrote an extensive post after visiting the National Library. I did not receive much feedback (positive or negative) on the post, so that must mean I nailed it, or got everything wrong and no one’s courageous enough to tell me. Either way, I’ll take the silence as a good thing and sprinkle some blame on the fact that the post is huge. Since it is.

This week I’m sitting here in Sihanoukville, which I’m visiting with my friend Suzanne, an Indiana librarian, thinking about the past quarter. It’s been extremely short here, and it’s going to feel the same way at the end of two weeks when my internship is formally over. There is a small chance that I’ll be able to work part-time for the project to train a future librarian, but I do not know what the chance of that is. I’m also going to hopefully be starting work at FCC as a part-time marketer, and a school I applied to work at earlier since being here reached out to me again about employment there. So there are opportunities, is what it comes down to. And I really look forward to making the most of them.

But for now I’m in this internship, and it’s a great internship. One thing that being in Cambodia, both as an intern at ODC but also as an “expat” who has moved and set-up-shop on foreign soil is what it means to be international. Among the many flaws of Americans is the lack of communicating with and understanding the relationship the United States has with its neighbors, Mexico and Canada. My generalizing aside, it’s mostly a question of the many, many people who do not think about the other countries the United States interacts with and is closely related to based on geography, and this is a huge issue. I really started to get a better understanding of the “international paradigm” when I came here, because questions of neighboring interests (Vietnam and Thailand) and regional interests (ASEAN, China, Singapore, for a few examples) are daily conversations.

What does it means to think from an international perspective? What implications does it hold to go beyond the boundaries of your own country, when thinking about daily life, social building blocks, human rights, and libraries? Often the term “melting pot” gets applied to cities like New York and Los Angeles, or in the case of Southeast Asia, the city-country Singapore. Every city by default means there are going to be a series of cultures getting melted into each other. In the case of Cambodia, there’s a lot of migration to and from nearby countries. There is also a lot of investment from countries like China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. There are significant people doing significant things from Western countries as well, and that goes above and beyond the NGO sphere.

“International” not only means keeping up to date with international relations, migrations and those people who have come from another place to live in the country of question, and import-export. International is also an extension of multiculturalism, tolerance for new ideas, things, and cultures. To be “international” means confronting many of the challenges of bringing multiple peoples from multiple countries together.

In the United States there is often angst about illegal immigration coming into the country from Mexico, and it dampens a lot of the potential for a cultural relationship due to grotesque generalizations and depressing elitism. There are issues in Cambodia with illegal Vietnamese immigrants, as well, and as I’ve seen, a lot of aggression toward the Vietnamese that is partially inspired by the Cambodian government and their relationship to the Vietnamese government and investors. There’s aggression toward Thailand as well, fueled by some territorial grievances, as well as illegal logging that has been going on steadily over and beyond the past few decades.

I feel privileged and enlightened to be here, to engage in conversations that involve a much higher degree of global awareness than most of my situations when I was in the United State. The USA is so big that it makes sense for the conversation to be within and about itself; however, things are far more exciting when your perspective expands. As a library “person,” I find any fuel for my interests and my cultural engagement to be positive. In the case of ODC, development is often related to international and regional interests, which means I’m hooked into the International. When I was with the Audubon Center, I found catalog records as close as Australia, which is significantly international.

One of those mantras I’ve been repeating is: you’re not going to know everything. And it’s true: to claim expertise on the many substantial topics and ideas floating around in contemporary Cambodia is impossible at only three months here. The landscape is pretty well painted out, but the details and that logical tree explaining to me how all the pieces fit together has yet to be crafted, consumed, and digested.

Working with the resources and actively engaging other people at ODC, and going off on the many adventures I have and seeing the country for what it is . . . these things have supported my own personal “open development” here in Cambodia, and getting to stay in Cambodia for another internship from January through March will be a real treat. It’s all about cross-pollinating one’s mind with knowledge from various information sources. Once that is accomplished, over time, the benefits will emerge and truly reward. Fortunately, though, the first step has been taken: knowing that the international perspective can really emerge and become a phenomenal tool is realized and will continue to propel me forward in life.

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3 thoughts on “Internship Week 11: Thinking “International”

  1. Thanks for this, Greg. This is a big reason as to why we started the Cascadia Poetry Festival. That the best known poet in our state never heard of the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (George Bowering) and that Bowering ives only a 2.5 hour drive north in Vancouver is a sign of what you cite in your essay. To begin to view things from a bioregional perspective requires many shift and, in our case, one of those is revisiting the notion of how international boundaries can be drawn to be more along the lines of the separations (& gateways) nature created. Happy Holidays. http://www.cascadiapoetryfestival.org

  2. Thanks for the post, I can certainly relate. I think travelling is a great way not only to learn about other people and cultures, but also about your own self. I
    I grew up in a very small place in Israel, a kibbutz in case you know what it is, and we had youngsters travelling from different parts of the world staying there for few months at a time working and mingling with us locals back in the 1970’s. Combined with the people who founded it, mostly central European Jews but also from South America and other places, I consider this community of 300 people or so to be much more cosmopolitan than most US cities. Yes, you certainly have more people and nationalities in say NYC, but how many chances do you really have to interact with them beyond being crammed together in the same subway car or dining at their “authentic cuisine” restaurant?
    I wish more Americans would travel overseas and learn more about the world. And by traveling I don’t mean collecting a ridiculously high number of visa stamps on your passport in a two week period, or going to some isolated resort by the beach. A friend of mine used to say a real traveler needs time to “absorb” the country, culture, people, food, and everything else related.
    And while it is true that other nations have to be more attuned to international relations then the mighty, isolated USA, this in itself is not an excuse for the “stupid American” syndrome.”

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