Chelsea Saelee studies Public Health with an Anthropology minor. Last fall, she interned abroad with the Women’s Aid Organisation in Malaysia through IE3 Global. Read on to learn about the specific challenges and rewards that internships abroad can offer:
On September 4th, 2016 I boarded a flight and traveled 8,000 miles to my bravest adventure. When I told my parents I decided to travel abroad for my internship, I don’t think traveling alone to Southeast Asia was what they had in mind. My family emigrated from Laos, a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, and growing up, I always heard stories about family struggles with money and the region’s endemic poverty. It pained me to know that my family once lived the way they did due to unfortunate circumstances and it hurt me even more that there are still people in the world who struggle every day to survive.
During high school, I had the opportunity to travel to neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam as part of an organized volunteer group. We spent two weeks visiting orphanages and the time spent with the children and local caretakers were some of the most treasured moments I have ever experienced. I remember returning to the U.S. feeling so grateful; that was the moment that sparked my interest in studying public health. When the opportunity to intern abroad through IE3 Global came, I discovered the Women’s Aid Organisation, a leading non-profit organization in Malaysia that provides shelter and resources for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.
Malaysia is a country with an incredibly rich history and culture. It is home to people of many ethnicities, traditions, and people. As I walked around and admired the capital city of Kuala Lumpur’s beautiful skyscrapers, I couldn’t help but to also notice the large amounts of people pan-handling on the streets. Handing over one or two ringgits didn’t seem like a big deal because it was the equivalent of 50 cents or so in the U.S. Out of curiosity, I brought up homelessness in Malaysia to a few clients and colleagues at the WAO shelter and was surprised at their instructions to never give out money again. They told me that often times, these individuals are set up by a wealthy boss or “owner” who collects the money earned at the end of the day in exchange for a roof over their head and mediocre food to keep them alive. I was shocked and upset that something so dangerous and cruel was happening nonchalantly to a great amount of people.
One night while walking with a friend, I noticed many people averting their eyes or making faces after looking at a man on the sidewalk. As we walked by him I noticed he wasn’t sitting on anything but the cold pavement and only had an empty paper cup nearby. There was a group of tourists walking behind us and just as we turned around, I noticed they had stopped and crouched down near the man. We walked over and that’s when I saw that he had a huge gash in his leg and his wound was pretty exposed. A woman asked us if we were local and if we could call for emergency and to all of our surprise, the elderly man started waving “no, no, no!” I couldn’t understand why he refused to let us call for help until I thought about the women at the shelter and wondered if perhaps this man was in a situation like they had described. We all stared at each other debating what to do and eventually decided to respect the man’s decision and leave him. The group left cash in his cup and he thanked them as they walked away. I noticed we had passed a convenience store along the way and my friend and I decided it was best not to give money but to purchase a few snacks and bandages instead. We returned, left the bag of items next to his paper cup, and walked away.
Choosing to intern abroad was an act of courage that I chose because I knew it was going to be challenging yet rewarding. Every difficult situation or task I encountered contributed the most to my gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to learn about the realities of the world, especially in impoverished areas. Whether it was spending time with the women in the shelter or handing water to a homeless disabled person on the street, each interaction I had empowered me to believe that small changes and contributions do make a difference in the world. Having the opportunity to experience interning abroad in a new country with different people and their culture is something that I will always be grateful for. I landed in Malaysia full of curiosity and a willingness to learn and was given so much more along the way, which included the motivation to continue doing what I love: helping others.
To learn more about the international opportunities available, click here!