05 March, 2011

Warning: existential crisis (again)

Reading: Shadow Country by Matthiessen (amazing, but you should have been reading him for years now)
Listening to: Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes; Wonder Why We Ever Go Home by Jimmy Buffett
Excited about: Chamber music concert at St. Peter's Cathedral Friday night (finally they grant me a student discount!)

It's been a month since I put anything up here? Really? I'd honestly imagined I'd posted something in between, but apparently not. It's a busy time and, at the same time, a quiet time of introversion and introspection.

My project for my internship at UNHCR is off and running. The response has been wonderful, well beyond what anyone expected and a bit overwhelming. Right now, I'm trying to keep up with replying to emails from staff & families wanting to participate and scheduling everybody for interviews. I believe I've mentioned here earlier that I consider this a bit similar to community work I've done in the U.S. and MENA with marginalized communities. These families have many decisions in life made for them with no one from the agency seeking their input on how these decisions impact them or what their lives are like. Much of the talk when I arrived was around managing expectations, that we this project wasn't about entitlements and big ticket programs. The overwhelming request from families so far? To paraphrase: Please acknowledge that we're a part of this organization, too. We may not work here, but you didn't just hire an individual. Nobody's asked for anything truly "big ticket". Mostly, the requests have been for orientations to help people adjust and understand what's what when they relocate or for some sort of social gathering a few times a year to help connect families and the organization. "Just make us feel welcome," said one spouse, "instead of a burden." Sadly, I've been told I can't travel as an intern, so any hope of connecting in person with staff and families in the field is gone.

That's one interesting thing interning here at 36 and to be tasked with an atypical internship project. The head of my section has said she considers me not so much an intern as an unpaid consultant, since that's who might otherwise be undertaking this project. "My gosh, it's a great deal for us to have you here," she said this week. Overall, I'm being treated very much as a professional by everyone, which has been gratifying. Frankly, I've too often missed that feeling over the last two years while in my program. However, there have been moments of frustration. It's been a bit of a struggle to be approved for even a long-distance phone code - needed to speak to people in the field (many of whom I cannot connect with via Skype) - since these are not usually granted interns. Things are working out in the end and most everybody has been very helpful, but there are definitely observations to be made on hierarchy, pecking orders and politics. I have three and a half very busy months ahead.

Now, as to the introspection and introversion. Introversion first. Outside the office, I spend quite a bit of time alone. This is not a complaint, mind you. I've finally picked up my camera and my pen again and gotten to work. Thankfully walking the city with a camera or sitting on a park bench with a notebook and pencil remain free and thus well within my meager budget. I'll likely have some more things to share here soon. However, living ever more in my own head these days means I'm also a bit out of practice in interacting with people. It may sound strange, but as much as you get winded on the stairs when you're out of shape physically, you can get just as exhausted talking with people when you're in a relatively silent period. Again, not a complaint but an observation. I think a silent period is actually quite good for me. Hasn't really helped quiet my mind, though.

The silence helps with the introspection, though. As I get very close to finishing my master's I am inevitably beginning to think of what's next. The trouble is I'm not sure anymore. Luckily, working in Staff Welfare means I'm surround by three people who are very good at helping. My direct supervisor suggested I work with a colleague in career management and she's been wonderful. I was initially just happy she would take time to help an intern, but then to have her insist we work through the whole process has been great. I wandered into our first meeting with my CV in hand, expecting to just get some help with that, but she rightfully suggested we take it back to the basics. Right now I'm working on some exercises around identifying values, skills and competencies.

The bigger question underneath my uncertainty is, as The Clash asks, "Should I stay or should I go?" and relates to the bigger issue of still not knowing where I belong in this big old world. What's possible and what makes sense for my future seems comparably minor; logistics are easier to deal with than existential crisis. In actuality, there's not really a decision to be made at the point. I'm not being bombarded with offers and I've not really reached out to anybody yet. What I'm thinking about a lot these days are the comments of friends, colleagues and acquaintances I've met working abroad. The gist? "You want to help us, go back and fix your country!" And, what a state my country is in these days. It's not the first time I've raised these sorts of questions, but this time the questions seem somewhat more dire, as though this is the time to get the answers right, if there are any right answers to be had. Where and how can you be most effective at helping foster positive change? What are the things you want out of life? What are you willing to give up to get them? Are you walking away from things or towards them? Oh, and, how will you pay the bills (including those damned student loans)?

I've never quite grasped how or why people end up at this blog (other than my mom) and that may be a good thing in that I just put up what I do without trying to write for anyone. So, I'll just keep rambling on and I hope you stick with me and maybe offer up a comment or two someday.

No comments: