A Week in a Remote Internship!

During fall of 2020, I had the opportunity to participate in the virtual internship program through the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) at my college, Northwestern University. The program puts students into internships for NGOs, non-profits, and other social organizations in Africa, South America, and Asia. For me, being a Vietnamese international student in the U.S., I decided to intern in Vietnam, as I wanted to contribute as much as possible to my local community. For three months, I worked for Vun Art, a social enterprise that provides vocational training for people with disabilities, with the collaboration of ABROADER.

Studying abroad is undoubtedly a valuable experience, and more so for a practical internship in social work. But how would that look like online, you may ask? How would we replace the many essential components of a global experience, such as engaging in cultural exchange, when transitioning into a digital format? Well, I had no idea how GESI or ABROADER planned the experience when I signed up. Now, however, with the completion of my internship, I am here to tell you all about how a virtual global internship experience looks like. 

Before we do that though, some quick background information so you won’t get confused!

My internship group has three other people with a diverse range of backgrounds and experience. We had another Vietnamese student studying marketing, and two more Northwestern students studying natural sciences. Vun Art, our host organization, provides vocational training to people with disabilities as they produce hand-crafted t-shirts, tote bags, and art prints with traditional motifs. Our group works with Vun Art on two goals: to create a comprehensive marketing package for a tour on their facility, and to conduct a market research on the U.S. to determine potential for exporting products. Additionally, we report our progress to ABROADER, as it serves as a bridge connecting GESI and Vun.

Vun's handmade products

Vun's products have traditional Vietnamese motifs and are hand-made with recycled silk!

 

With that out of the way, I will walk you through a typical week during my remote internship! 

Monday

On Monday, our team holds an internal meeting to discuss the week’s tasks. An internal meeting is when only us interns get together to go over our accomplishments, tasks, and goals for both short and long term. The meeting typically lasts around an hour, with each member taking turns and reporting their portion of the job. Since we were working on two different time zones, Hanoi and Evanston, the monday meeting was a good chance to catch up on things that could potentially be left out of emails and texts. The early morning or late evening meetings also allowed us to have more social interaction while all staying home. Spending so much time virtually can be exhausting, but I always enjoyed seeing other team members and chatting!

Tuesday

On Tuesday, we have the academic portion of the internship, which is our International Studies class with Northwestern! The class runs for almost two hours. Each week we focused on a different topic in the field of international development. Our conversations ranged from the global power structures to the ethical implication of international development itself. Additionally, we also get to listen to experts in the field and pose our burning questions!

Wednesday

On Wednesday, we get to attend the cultural sessions prepared by ABROADER! We talked about Vietnamese cuisine, music, family values, and much more while also exchanging cultural stories with other international students. We also participated in many fun games, which you can get a glimpse of in this video! 

                                           

 

Thursday

Thursday is my busiest day with the internship! 

On Thursday morning, we have the full meeting between the internship team, ABROADER, and the founder of Vun. This is our chance to report directly to our employer on the progress we’ve made. We started the program with the acknowledgement that we should and ought to do what we can to fulfill the goals of the social organizations we would work for. For me, that means taking the extra step to help the designated translator with English and Vietnamese so that we could more efficiently communicate with the host. Additionally, I served as the moderator of our discussions, meaning I made sure everyone had a chance to voice their part! The full team meeting also gave us the opportunity to consult with our mentors, people who had years of experience in related fields to our tasks, and to learn directly from them. One of my favorite aspects of the internship was that interaction, as we could learn about work in the real world through very practical and hands-on approaches. Before starting the internship, I was concerned about the potential miscommunication and lack of connection that we would otherwise have in a face-to-face setting. However, by opening up multiple channels of communication, such as texting, emailing, or phone calls outside of the meetings, we were able to utilize technology to stay connected!

Then, Thursday evening is the second International Studies class session of the week. This session is discussion-based, as opposed to the lecture format of the Tuesday class. We usually spent the Thursday class engaging in analytical or role playing activities to emulate real life situations. For example, in one session we were divided into groups of journalists, government officials, locals, and private investors to formulate responses to a hypothetical crisis. That approach to learning, plus the internship hours, ultimately gave me a very thorough, critical, and practical understanding of development work! 

Friday

On Friday, there is no designated time for the class or the internship, so I would use my time to catch up on unfinished tasks, or simply focus on other classes (I was a full time student first and foremost!). Otherwise, Friday was a great chance for me to relax, like in this picture of me at my desk with my cat! 

Writer and his cat

My cat just would not look at the camera!

 

Weekend! 

It is finally here! Since I was home, I usually spent the weekend with my family - going out to eat, shop, or just to enjoy Hanoi. Being in the same location as the host organization meant I could also turn this remote internship into an in-person one! At the time, Vietnam had basically controlled COVID *AB blog*, so I felt safe enough to meet up with the host and representatives from ABROADER! Here is me visiting Vun Art! 

Visit

This is me (with the orange hat) and members of Vun Art. The founder himself is to the utmost right!

 

Final Words

Just like that, time went by quickly, and the internship concluded after about 10 weeks! We definitely ran into some problems during the process, as it was the first time the program was done virtually. The issues included communication problems, such as language barriers and time differences, and conflict of expectations, like what we could and could not do given the time period. However, we were able to resolve everything as we proceeded. For both issues, open and honest dialogues were able to help us set clear goals, appropriate expectations, and workarounds for the communication problems.

Final Deliveries Showcase

These are our final deliveries! This is a page of the brochure for visitors seeing Vun's facility

Final Deliveries Showcase 2

And this is the front page of the sales package introducing Vun Art to potential customers!

 

Overall, both the internship and the class have given me a new perspective on social work. I gained a deeper level of understanding and appreciation after I directly went through the process, with all the highs and lows that came with it. I am honestly very grateful to have had this unique opportunity, especially in such a chaotic time as the current pandemic.