Halfway Hurdle: And the passion I found as I climbed over it

Last week I hit the halfway point of my internship in Laos, and with it I definitely ran into a bit of a hurdle. Between the language barrier, the time change to home, and reaching a stopping point in both of my projects at work, I felt a bit lost and out of place. Oh, and the rainy season really made its presence known last week too. I definitely felt like I was in a slump, but it is amazing what can come from being a little stuck.

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Two weeks ago I finished my deliverables for both my mak mao and agritourism projects. I wrote a report on our mak mao production and submitted it to my bosses, and I wrote a business plan for turning VFI’s Green Earth Center into an agritourism business. Next, one of the directors will go to the south of Laos to discuss making this a reality with the government. So, on Monday I walked into work, opened my computer, and stared at the screen unsure of what to do next.

As part of our internship, we are all required to write an article for Open Development Laos, an open data platform that provides transparent, nonbiased information about development topics that impact the country. I decided to start my piece and pick a topic. I scanned the website and decided to write about one of the Sustainable Development Goals in Laos. I made my way over to the UN SDG website and discovered SDG 18, yes, 18. Laos created its own individualized SDG called “Lives Safe from UXO” because the country cannot address developmental issues with the country still littered with 80 million unexploded cluster munitions.

The more I dove into this topic, the more, fascinated, dedicated, and disappointed I became. If you had told me when I left the USA in May that the topic I would be most passionate about was unexploded ordnance, I certainly would not have believed you. Yet, I think that the biggest lasting impact I can make is through extensively researching UXO and bringing that knowledge back to the US. There will be much more information to come on UXO in another blog post!

Mine Advisory Group (MAG) Visitors Center in Vientiane

Mine Advisory Group (MAG) Visitors Center in Vientiane

Life outside of work here in Vientiane can be tricky. Not speaking Lao is definitely a major challenge, but I do feel like my language skills are improving, and I can tell people appreciate when I use my very broken Lao during interactions at restaurants, shops, etc. As time goes on, I also feel that I am getting to know my coworkers better and building relationships with them, which definitely makes work even more enjoyable.

I am beyond grateful for the four wonderful people who I get to spend about 99% of my time with. Without them, I am not quite sure what I would do with myself. We are lucky to have an incredible internship coordinator who has become more of a best friend than anything else. I was so fortunate to be paired with two spectacular William and Mary students who embrace this experience with such excitement. And we were gifted another intern from Georgetown who was the perfect icing on top of the cake. These four people have absolutely been my rocks through every experience in Laos. The highs and the lows are much more navigable. It has also been wonderful to have a balance of discussions about development challenges we see, perspectives on development, observations of Southeast Asia, and political debates that are immediately followed by dance parties or trips to find ice cream.

As I moved through the halfway point, my gratitude for this experience multiplied exponentially, and I am definitely struggling to accept how little time I have left in this beautiful place.

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