Week 10: What I Loved and Learned About VFI

As my internship has come to its end, I want to take this share my initial thoughts on what I have learned and enjoyed from this experience.

First, I loved that VFI was a family. It makes sense to me that you would befriend you coworkers. After all, you see them up to 40 hours every week. But the workers at VFI are family inside and outside the office. Almost everyday a majority of the office would eat lunch together on the outside terrace, eating dishes that different people had made at home and brought to share. After lunch, someone always make spicy papaya salad (Som Tam) for the entire office so that everyone can get a mid-afternoon boost. If anyone was leaving, there would always be a big goodbye lunch for them. When I had mine, I was both surprised and honored. Sometimes after hours our office would go out for karaoke and food. Other times, the party would not leave the office and people would drink Beerlao and Lao Cow together. My advisor told me that one time near the end of the work day it began to rain very heavily so to wait out the rain, the office had a little party. For our weekend travels throughout Laos, we did not hesitate to invite our coworkers to come along. Anything from attending rocket festivals or weddings together, our coworkers were more than just office friends.

Next, I loved that work did not consist of typing silently for 8 hours. Every now and then we would take exercise breaks, laugh over som tam, and take quick breaks to get frozen yogurt. Work also ended at 4:30. Everyone, unless they really had to finish an assignment left at 4:30 or around then. However if you stayed later, the latest that the maeban would allow you to stay in the office was 5:00pm. At the office, there is the expectation that while you are working, you are giving your best and you are getting your assignments done, so if you need a break it is well deserved.

Additionally, I really appreciate that we were given substantive work that added to the work of the organization. None of the assignments I received felt like busy work or assignments for administrative assistants. I genuinely felt as though my assignments were tailored to my interests and used my skills to support VFI’s projects.

Something I learned from my advisor is the importance of consciously being considerate in the workplace. When one of our coworkers was feeling stressed or upset about something, she would get them a treat from lunch. Almost every time my advisor went on a trip, she would bring something back for the people in the office. And, it was not just her. If anyone went on a work trip to another province. They usually brought back alcohol or something specific from that area for the office. When I was saying my goodbyes, the shelter held a Bah Si ceremony for me and the other interns to pray for our safe passage home and two of the women I worked closely with gave me goodbye gifts. This level of generosity and goodness has motivated me to reflect on my relationships and interactions with others, and to be more aware of others and their unsaid needs.

Working at VFI was definitely unlike any of my previous internship experiences and I really enjoyed experiencing another country’s work culture. I might even consider introducing afternoon office snacks to offices in the United States.