A month has passed and the memories I’ve created linger in my thoughts with vivid images of my weekend getaways around Europe. I served as a Communications and Marketing intern for World Youth Alliance Europe for two months, beginning from May, days after my finals week in Ateneo de Manila University. The thought of pursuing an internship overseas filled me with uncontainable excitement, much to the surprise of my family and friends, including me.
“I cannot believe it! I’m going to Europe,” as I embarked on my first solo flight abroad, dragging my luggage along the velvety carpets of the airport.
Following the long albeit smooth ride, as well as a tinge of jet lag, I pinched myself to check the reality where I have found myself for this two-month journey. Indeed, it was no longer a dream, as I felt the summer breeze brush through me while I dragged by luggage to the front door.
A familiar face, an acquaintance I have met in last year’s International Solidarity Forum (ISF), had come to escort me to the office and my flat. It was my boss, Ewa Wrona, the Regional Director of Operations for World Youth Alliance Europe.
I was introduced to my workplace filled with the warm smiles of my co-interns, namely Ana Antunovic, Beata Wylaz and Alexandre Berlinere, and another acquaintance from the ISF, Director of Advocacy Antoine Mellado, who helped me feel at home. As I lay down on the top bunker, my new room mate from the United States, Rhodes Kilpatrick, gave me a tour around Brussels and helped me buy my own groceries for the coming weeks.
Walking around the streets of Brussels, I was enchanted with the magnificent cityscape. The roads and sidewalks were well paved, devoid of any obstructive potholes, while traffic lights stood at every corner, like watchful sentries preventing any form of traffic jams or unwarranted jaywalkers.
Without the presence of environmentally degrading, smoke-belching vehicles, Brussels was more than a breath of fresh air but an atmosphere that signified the presence of strong institutions that maintained this cleanliness and orderliness. As dusk settles, the streets remain safe, as one could easily stroll around without worry of any criminal element from both the citizens around the city and the police force. Consistently, these were the sights I have experienced throughout my two-month stay; indeed, the contrasting environments between Brussels and Metro Manila were unsurprisingly far too significant.
Throughout my rigorous work every weekday from 9 to 6, and the weekends I spent exploring the various cosmopolitan cities around Europe, I still felt a calling in my heart, a voice that echoed even in my dreams when I sleep. I cannot help but feel this slight tinge of homesickness that reminded me of who I was: a Filipino.
Staying outside my motherland has glued my eyes tothe current events happening back in the Philippines, such as the terror attacks happening in Marawi City. Surely, I could only hope but pray that my family and friends back home were safe. More importantly, I was reminded that even when I was far away, I needed to come back home.
Thus, before I left the regional office, my boss asked me if, perhaps, I could extend my stay, but as much as I wanted to, I had to come back home. I still had a lot to learn about the realities here in the Philippines. I was deeply left heavy hearted as I packed my bags and bid my farewells to my second home in Brussels, Belgium, but it left me with a newfound realization. I began to understand why these opportunities to have my intern term abroad were bestowed upon me.
Certainly, the truth is my country needs me now more than ever, as unjust socio-political structures continue to pervade the everyday life of ordinary citizens who live as part of the marginalized sectors.
Although I feel that I am one step closer to my dream of securing a job with the work I have done, I believe these experiences in World Youth Alliance Europe were stepping stones of my real mission to live out how I understand the true meaning of defending human dignity.
It means to acknowledge the injustices of the world around me and its victims by to learning see the world from their point of view and personal experiences. It means to go beyond the privileges one has and to empathize with the marginalized, as though they are subjects who need to be treated ethically. It calls for me to acknowledge this reality of the Other, insofar as there are other people like me who are equally human beings whose dignities are worth defending despite the inherent and external differences that separate me from them.
In the near future, I hope that I would come back older and more experienced, and realize just how much my internship experienced has allowed me to be more open towards the experiences of the marginalized. After all, the journey has just begun.
Written by Vince Nieva, a certified member and former intern at the WYA Asia Pacific and the WYA Europe offices. His main project during his Europe internship was “The Solidarity Project,” a fundraiser for the internship program.