Each day of my internship is truly a mystery in and of itself. Sometimes I am stuck at the office all day with no instructions and still no opportunity to go over my tentative project plans with my supervisor, and other times he plans an impromptu day trip to the coast or a 3-day camping trip to southern Albania. Though I love spontaneity to break up the otherwise monotonous pace of some days, it has been a completely new experience to be given no details whatsoever when we go on excursions, especially as someone who is a die-hard planner and lover of to-do lists. For example, it has been more than a little uncomfortable to not know if I’m staying in a hotel or roughing it in a tent some nights, especially as an unseasoned camper. However, I’ve come to learn that this is part of the unique beauty of Albania: letting go of some material conveniences and comforts, and making flexibility the name of the game.
Though I still have no set mission for this summer with the National Coastal Authority, I have found that you don’t always need a project or a plan to improve yourself. Becoming accustomed to being uncomfortable much of the time, whether that means no air conditioning in 100 degree weather or being crammed on the bench seat of a Land Rover Defender with 3 young children and a co-worker (or both), and making the decision to be satisfied with the basics is so incredibly liberating. Going with the flow in these situations has already taught me to be grateful for what I have – air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat – and silently counting these blessings in my mind has become automatic. I found that the most amazing thing happens when you let go of a subconsciously constant, sometimes obsessive need to be within a neatly-defined comfort zone: you begin to truly feel at peace. You begin to feel at peace with the breathtaking landscape and those around you; at peace with your mind, at peace with your heart; and it is a kind of quiet you never knew existed until you feel it so deep down that your appreciation and love for life is bursting at the seams. It is complete and utter awe. It is the most fulfilling sensation I have ever experienced, all thanks to the most unpredictable and unconventional internship I could have ever imagined.
If you had asked me how I thought this internship would grow me as an individual before I left for Albania, I likely would have recited a mostly predictable list: learn how a government organization works in a post-communist society, experience a different culture and meet different people, gain insight into how environmental conservation impacts public health, etcetera, etcetera. But these are all relatively salient developments in the education of a young college student. The biggest surprise this internship has given me is the opportunity to quiet my restless mind and to be overcome with awe through experiencing what I believe life is all about: learning, loving, and exploring. Learning from the hardworking individuals in this country who persist against many odds has given me hope. Loving strangers I meet and feeling their unconditional love in return has taught me true compassion. Exploring an unspoiled landscape of mountains and seas has opened my eyes to an earth more beautiful than I could have ever fathomed. No matter how many books you read or years you go to school, there is no substitute for stepping out of your comfort zone and inviting into your arms the richness and beauty of life.
After only two weeks at my internship here in Albania, I have found peace within myself. I can’t wait to see what other surprises these next six weeks will bring.