A Constant Companion: Reflections from an International Intern
By Steven Levy
Christina Koehler, a Nursing major at University of North Carolina, just recently completed a two month long international internship in Buenos Aires. Here she shares her thoughts on fear and change, and eventually hitting your stride in a completely new surrounding.
It’s a simple word in theory—only six little letters—but such a powerful concept. Obama used ‘change’ as an integral part of his political campaign; Gandhi’s wise words about being “the change you wish to see in the world” are a staple piece of advice; and a quick Google search yields over 2000 quotes from different politicians, actors, musicians, and philosophers about the benefits of change.
But let’s be honest, the idea of change is terrifying. It was the end of May, and I was sitting in the Baltimore airport, ready to board my flight to Buenos Aires, wondering what I was thinking when I applied for an internship in Argentina. The weather at home was finally warm and friends were back for the summer. Yet there I was leaving the familiar to start a journey in a country I knew very little about. I was forcing myself into a new surrounding, changing and challenging my daily routine. I was scared. But the plane’s wheels left the ground, and fifteen hours later, I found myself coming face to face with change.
My first three days in the city were nerve-wracking. My brain felt like it was competing in a triathlon—processing the Spanish, translating it and forming my response in English, all before finally translating my answer back to Spanish. At work, I found myself especially confused. Working at a hospital can be difficult in English, never mind Spanish.
Then, there was the city itself. I have the absolute worst sense of direction. For me, a map is just another piece of paper. I can’t even count the number of times I got lost that first week, weaving in and out of the intimidating concrete jungle.
At first, change seemed to be this monster, highlighting all my flaws, insecurities, and cultural differences. Time marched on though, and I slowly recognized that change was more a gentle companion, encouraging me to be brave, to expand my boundaries, and to learn about a new culture, health system, and myself.
The hospital became one of my favorite places as I found myself settling into a rhythm with Spanish. I was able to form friendships with the doctors and would swap jokes and stories with them while replacing casts, giving routine check-ups, and interacting with patients. Soon enough, the triathlon in my head became a morning jog as I one day found myself effortlessly thinking in Spanish on my ride home.
Sometimes the bus routes would change unexpectedly and I would have to navigate my way home from a different stop. But I was no longer intimidated as the concrete jungle became a tame mix of cafés, restaurants, and stores, each with its own distinct ambiance.
After completing my two-month internship, I was once again boarding a plane, facing another imminent change of having to readjust to life back in the States. But this time, I face it with less fear, thanks to my experiences in Argentina. I realize we can choose to resist change, or we can choose to embrace it and let it work its power in our lives. ¡Buenas ondas!