Summer Internship Reflections

In light of the close of the summer, I’d like to reflect on my work this summer.

My travels with PADF and the OAS this summer were amazing and enlightening.  This was my first actual “business trip” so I learned a lot about business trip etiquette.  I only traveled with my supervisor to one of the four different countries that I visited with PADF and the OAS this summer.  I have to say, it’s a little unnerving to sit on a plane with your boss for six hours at a time.

I traveled to the Dominican Republic and Trinidad completely by myself.  This is the first time I’ve been abroad completely alone, and I feel very proud of myself.  Of course, I learned about the culture of all the places I visited.  I think that by now, I’ve pretty much mastered the kiss that many Latin Americans use to greet each other.

I learned about some of the misconceptions of the places that I visited.  For example, I didn’t have the best impression of Colombia prior to actually visiting the country, particularly after having to get a security clearance and training in car bomb protocol to get there.  However, while I was in the Colombia, I felt safe the entire time.  I spoke with some Colombians about the issue and every local I spoke with said that they felt that Colombia is completely misrepresented to the outside world.  When most people think of Colombia, they think of drugs, cocaine, the FARC, and violence.  But that’s not the case.  Of course Colombia still has its problems, but they are not nearly as widespread and intense as the media makes them out to be.  I actually saw a commercial for Colombian tourism that actually made light of this misconceptions.  The commercial said, “Visitors to Colombia are risk… of wanting to stay.”

I also improved my interviewing skills, in terms of asking the questions and setting it up.  I often had to improvise questions on the go, in Spanish.  One of my interviews in Colombia was with the director of the Universidad de Ciencias Aplicadas y Ambientales (the University of Applied and Environmental Sciences) in the capital city of Bogotá.  The director was a very imposing man and it was kind of overwhelming interviewing such a high profile person.  The interview was conducted in his office, and I asked in my mediocre Spanish if it was possible to move some of the furniture around to get the best shot.  He answered “Todo es possible” (“everything is possible”).  When we walked around the campus grounds so that I could shoot b-roll of the campus, everyone we passed stopped what they were doing to say “Buenos días, Director.”  It was a great educational experience, albeit intimidating.

My stamina has greatly improved.  Some of my shooting schedules were back to back to back from very early in the morning to very late at night.  I was often very tired.  Sometimes my filming schedule felt like running a marathon.  A lot of my film schedules were very hurry up/wait, which was often very frustrating for me.  My supervisor quoted his friend’s advice who had been a foreign correspondent working in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lay down, and never be awake when you can be asleep.”

One of the cultural differences that I experienced is the sense of time.  This was particularly evident in the Dominican Republic, which operates on “island time.”  For example, my guide would tell me that he would pick me up at 7am, so I would be waiting in the lobby all packed by ten of, and the guide would roll up around 7:30 and then ask if I wanted to stop for breakfast.  This was very frustrating for me at first since I am a very Type A person who likes to operate on a very well-structured schedule.  After a while, I was able to relax and realize that this is just part of the culture.  I did, however, pad in an extra hour when I had to leave for the airport to go back home.

There was also quite a bit of walking and hiking involved with my travels to film on location.  I had to hike up the mountains of Colombia, in the rain, humidity, and high altitude, while trying to get a good shot with good sound quality.  There was even a point when I had to cross a make-shift bridge over a raging river that was made of a few bamboo planks that was slippery from all the rain.  I had to film, try not to slip, and protect my camera from the rain.  It was difficult, but extremely rewarding.

I went with the philosophy of “shoot everything.”  The more film you shoot, the more you have to choose from in the editing process.  You can’t really have too much film.  I found that just holding the camera out the window of the car while driving across country actually produced some good landscape b-roll.  One of the in-country staff actually commented to me that it was a good idea to send an “outsider” to film on location because an outsider would have a different perspective on what material would be interesting to shoot; residents of the location may take some scenery for granted.

My Spanish definitely improved.  There’s nothing quite like being immersed in a culture to help you learn a language.  I was also able to pick up some regional slang and colloquisms.  I had some difficulties understanding Dominican accents in the Dominican Republic, but after I got used to it, I understood it much better.

I knew that PADF had several other offices around the hemisphere, but I was surprised by how they work together when I actually visited some of the other cultures.  I have always had a taste for traveling, and more experiences with PADF and the OAS this summer solidified my wishes to continue doing work abroad.

One thing that I really learned is that a non-profit organization operates as a business.  NGOs have accounting and finance staff just like any for-profit corporation.  While I feel like I am “doing good” in a humanitarian sense, I am also participating in business.  The videos that I shoot and edit are not just to expose issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, they are also used as marketing and advertising material for PADF and the OAS to attract donors and corporate partners.

Overall, it was an incredible experience.  I consider myself very fortunate to be able to travel to so many different places this summer, and to use my video shooting and editing skills for such a noble humanitarian cause.