I spent the first few weeks of my internship finding participants for the theater project. I looked for individuals who were either North Korean refugees or high school dropouts. It has been three weeks since the project has officially started with those participants. (Learn more about the North Korean refugees and contact them in the US).
During the first week, I was very frustrated when I saw the participants and could not even sleep very well at night because I was thinking about them. It was heartbreaking to see those teenagers, who are desperately in need of help and guidance but could not get themselves anywhere. It was especially frustrating for me since I grew up in an environment where I could access every resource I needed.
I was eager to help them from the very beginning and I tried to do so in my own way. Unfortunately, this did not bring satisfying results and furthermore, this was the reason why my first few days with them were disappointing. I tried my best and did everything I could that seemed beneficial for the participants. Regardless of my effort, the participants did not welcome or appreciate my work. At that time I felt as if all the things I did to help them were rejected and I could not understand their self-destructive behavior. I could not figure out why everything was not working as well as I had imagined, so I started to blame myself, thinking that my actions were the direct cause of those behaviors. However, as time went on, they opened their minds to me and I got to know and understand them better.
Now I know that I was impatient to judge those behaviors as due to my actions. More importantly, now I realize that neither their behavior, which is a result of their upbringing and past traumatic experiences, can be changed in a day, like a miracle, nor can I be their savior. I also learned that it is absolutely important to connect with the participants, but at the same time I should not be emotionally attached to them. I learned that not only might that lead to me making biased judgments, but also it is not good for my mental health. I also learned is that the participants do not need my pity. Every one of them has their own story, which I will not mention for their privacy, and after listening to their story it is easy to pity them. However, pitying implies that I perceive the participants as if they are inferior and this kind of perception will change the dynamic of my relationship with the participants.
During my internship this summer, I wanted to learn how to engage with underprivileged people and I believe I achieved it through trial and error. The way in which I engage them which is different, but also similar to how I would interact with my family or friends. Moreover, by working with underprivileged people, I learned how to communicate with and understand people from different backgrounds; now I am more understanding and I try to put myself in other people’s shoes. However, as I mentioned before, not everything I did was successful. I have to admit that I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning and I still make them now. However, by keeping track of my actions and the results of my actions, and by having a designated time to reflect on them with my supervisor who taught me what I did correctly and incorrectly, I found ways to do better the next time. I believe this habit of reflecting on myself will be of great help no matter what I do in the future. Furthermore, being able to make mistakes was a precious experience; I will be a better person in the future through those experiences.
– Sohyun Shin ’15