I am in agreement with Lisa Miatello that most people doing international internships are not actually helping the local community in question, but actually helping themselves. However, her analysis of the situation is an oversimplification. Just a few notes:
1. Not just IDS students go on international internships. I know many students in science, engineering, business, and education that go overseas with the intention of “helping” those abroad as well as enhancing their own resumes.
2. Many IDS students (a large proportion as compared to other programs, as far as I know) are heavily involved in the Montreal community and volunteer for organizations here as well as abroad.
3. Not everyone going overseas is privileged and white. Many of us are actually from the “regions of need” and go back to help the communities in which we grew up. Yes, it enhances my resume, but guess what, that’s the way the world works. Sometimes, you need to get with the program before any change becomes possible. Lots of people wish they were in our position but are not.
4. Culture shock is normal. Any number of people from across Canada and the world coming to McGill experienced culture shock. It’s a learning experience. And learning is okay. I think a lot of the people that end up going overseas really do have a life-changing experience, whether it benefits the community or not, and they’re able to come back and reflect on their experiences in a positive way. Although volunteer tourism is sexy on a resume and is debatable in ethical terms, it is an educational experience, and as such, it is one of the things that IDS students and students in other disciplines should be able to complete as part of their curriculum in order to become better citizens of the world and to apply what they learn in the classroom.
U4 International Development Studies and Environment