Like most people, I tend to romanticize the future. The sun’ll come out tomorrow, the grass will be greener, and my Instagram aesthetic will be flawless. When it came to my first experience abroad for an internship which supposedly combines all of my interests, my expectations were sky-high. What to do when that romanticized future is just a fantasy?
I’ve often said low expectations are the key to happiness — don’t worry, I’m not actually that cynical. In reality, I think it is overly-specific, not high, expectations that can be problematic. Still, how could I help myself from imagining what my internship would be like (in detail)? I couldn’t.
The internship has proved to be quite different than I expected, but a roll-with-the-punches mindset has enabled me to adjust accordingly while still having an amazing experience.
Here are a few examples of the mental adjustments I’ve had to make over the past 2.5 weeks.
Expectation: I will work at the refugee resettlement agency every day, doing concrete tasks they have already outlined.
Reality: We spend most of our days at a local university structuring a program that did not exist before we arrived. We usually have no supervision, so we set our own hours and determine our own course of action. In a way, this is disappointing because most of us thought we would get to do more hands-on work, which often seems more productive than the planning we have been doing. It is also difficult to structure a program in a country you know very little about. However, it is also valuable experience — we are structuring a program that will continue long after we leave Finland, which is the ultimate mark of an impactful program. Because we are creating it, we get endless input in what we want to accomplish and what we want to do each day.
Expectation: I will get to work with refugees every day.
Reality: Thus far, we’ve worked with refugees once through the partner organization. None of them were women, which is the target group for our project. We met some asylum seekers at an optional workshop some of us attended, but that was really by chance. When our program gets up and running next week, we will get to meet refugee women regularly (provided they show up to our events).
Expectation: I will make friends right away, and there will be some other Americans to lean on if I experience culture shock.
Reality: I’m not here to make friends — could be nice, though. There are nine interns. We’re from the USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Iran, France, Thailand, and China (two people are returning home early for personal reasons). I am the only American. Cultural barriers and the fact that we all live in different parts of Helsinki have made it difficult to form lasting bonds, but it is still early. We are very different people, and sometimes that means friendships will simply not occur. I am trying to form bonds with people outside of the project, but it is somewhat difficult because Finns are not the most socially outgoing people. Regardless, I can’t force friendships, and I didn’t accept the internship because I wanted more friends. That’s what Bumble BFF is for, right?
Expectation: Speaking only English will not be a hinderance.
Reality: For the most part, this is true. Grocery clerks speak at least some English, you just have to let them know you can’t speak Finnish. Really, speaking only English has been a bigger problem with the other interns than with Finnish people themselves. Because English is my native language, I can reflexively express the entire range of my emotion and opinions in group meetings. This is a huge privilege — my peers often have to take a moment to gather their thoughts and often express embarrassment or intimidation when they have to speak English to me or the Canadian intern. I am truly just impressed that they all speak a second language at all!
One of my favorite movies of all time is Dan in Real Life. There is a quote in that movie I’ve always loved, and it is more applicable than ever right now:
Instead of telling our young people to plan ahead, we should tell them to plan to be surprised.
Expectation: I will love Finland.
Reality: See above.