I hadn’t meant to cry. But, when my student-teachers, Htoisan and Ah Bu, thanked me, in front of the KWAT staff, who had gathered to celebrate our last day of GROW, the sound of their voices, more than anything, brought tears that I tried to (unsuccessfully) hide by using my cardigan as a tissue. Now, back in the U.S., it is this more than anything else that I remember about my experiences in Thailand. To be sure, the horrors of the human rights violations and impressive work done by our partner organization that I had read about in the activity reports and testimonials impacted me. However, when I am reminiscing or retelling stories to curious friends and family about the GROW internship, I see the faces of the people I met, laughing, crying, dancing, and praying — all playing like an old-fashioned video reel in my head.
I believe that this is the key component of GROW: human-to-human interaction. This human-to-human interaction also serves as the key to a productive partnership, which makes sense, given GROW’s dedication to enhancing each chapter’s relationship with their partner organization. Of the daunting list of tasks to tackle during our seven weeks in Chiang Mai, I remember most those that involved meeting and talking to people, whether the KWAT staff on daily work days, interviewees for Humans of Burma, or the migrant workers that came to our leadership workshop. The individual stories of the people we met lent me new perspectives I would have never gotten without the GROW internship, helping me understand and drawing me in a more personal way to the cause of KWAT. These interactions were the fuel to my fire during my GROW internship, when food poisoning, fever, and other symptoms kept me feeling far from my best: How could I not give my 100% when I was surrounded by so many people who had such inspiring stories and faced life’s challenges so cheerfully? What else could make me feel this way but the narratives and personal connections I made while in Thailand? During this trip, I reaffirmed my desire to be in a career where I can work directly with people.
Another important aspect of GROW is not only building connections with a community but also with an environment. In the seven weeks in Chiang Mai, I’ve appreciate how GROW has allowed us to immerse ourselves in our partner organization’s work environment (although, unfortunately for us, not in the IDP camps of Burma yet). The continuity of our work also lent itself to educating us on the need for and value of KWAT’s work. Despite having been a member of GlobeMed for three years, I am only now starting to understand the breadth and depth of the ethnic conflicts in Burma and the work of KWAT. In this way, GROW has solidified one of GlobeMed’s larger lessons about the multifaceted nature of health and the importance of being a global citizen (one of the most frequently laughed about “joke-facts” of the GROW internship was that we had a Filipino, Indian, Chinese, and Korean group of students from the U.S. interning in Thailand with an organization that works for Burmese migrants and IDPs in the Kachin and Northern Shan states).
Looking back on GROW, I regret that not everyone in GlobeMed at Dartmouth can go because there is so much intellectual and personal growth. As aforementioned, I don’t think anyone can really understand the extent of the Burmese conflict or KWAT before (or even after) experiencing it firsthand. Unless we, the GROW interns, can bring it back.
Seven weeks are up, and the GROW internship is officially done. However, my work is not over. While I cannot recreate the GROW experience for those who weren’t there, I hope to bring back what I’ve learned by acting as a human connection — as a voice, informant, and storyteller — for my friends, family, and the rest of the GlobeMed at Dartmouth chapter. And, of course, I hope to sustain the lessons I’ve learned about global citizenship, political empowerment, individual leadership, and health throughout my life.
I’m no longer in Thailand, but I’ve found a community in Thailand. I’ve come to see myself more and more as a global citizen, whether I’m in the U.S., in Korea, in Nicaragua, in Thailand, or wherever my life may take me next.
So, in a way, the GROW internship is not really over.
— Hae-Lin Cho