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Around the World in 85 Days: UMSI Student's Summer Internships in Singapore and Uganda (plus more!)

My name is JJ Pionke and I spent the Summer of 2012 going around the world. This is my story.

When I first came to SI, and learned that I would have to do a Summer internship, I knew that I wanted to go abroad. I've been abroad before and I've deeply missed being overseas. As soon as I got to Ann Arbor, I met with UMSI's Career Development Office(CDO) for some ideas. I made up a boilerplate introductory email that I could modify easily from one organization to another. I also made up a spreadsheet to track who I was sending email to, when, and if there was a response. I then hit iTrack through the UMSI website and started combing through any country that had entries related to Library Science in some way. Since I had time before school started in September, I started researching organizations and sending out email right away because I knew that I was going to get incredibly busy in a very short time.

I eventually sent email to around 50 organizations and heard back from about 20 or so. Most of them were just declination of interest, but a few were genuinely helpful where they recommended other organizations or countries to try. I got a yes from the National University of Singapore (NUS) pretty quickly and worked with them on and off for the next several months through the planning stages of the trip, including what I would be doing and so forth. NUS is listed in iTrack but all the other details of my trip had to be worked out on my own, like housing. I got very lucky in that the woman living kitty corner from me was from Singapore and she was able to put me in touch with a friend of hers that was willing to rent me a room for a very reasonable price for the month that I was going to be there.

The NUS internship was only 160 hours and to make the full 6 PEP credits, I needed 200 more internship hours. I felt pretty good that I had already landed one internship so quickly and as a consequence I backed off on my internship hunt for the other 200 hours. Don't get me wrong, it was still in the back of my head and I kept an eye on international announcements from CDO, UM's International Center, and The Record for stories of people's past Summer experiences and potential opportunities. CDO hosted an interest session for international internships which included a panel of students that had just gotten back from the world. One of the panelists had spent her Summer in Uganda cataloging at the Uganda National Archive (UNA) and there was a high probability that the same job would be open again. The professor in charge of the project was also in attendance. The presentation impressed me and afterwards, I told the professor that if I could get funding, I would go. He and CDO gave me a list of scholarships to try for. Scholarship applications are due anywhere from December to March so it felt like I was writing them forever. I applied to 8 scholarships. Then there was nothing to be done but to wait.

My second semester zips by. At the very beginning of April, I was starting to get nervous because I had heard nothing about scholarships and an internship that I thought I had landed, backed out, so I was still looking for 200 hours. Literally in the span of 24 hours, I had not only a second internship, this time at the UM Bentley Historical Library, but a scholarship to go to Uganda, which meant a third internship and now I was going around the world! In terms of the Bentley, I was there for a class orientation and the Head of Reference, Karen Jania, and I started talking and she offered me the 200 hours, unpaid, but that I would be able to create a physical and online exhibit on GLBTQ history in Michigan/Ann Arbor/University of Michigan. Because of the way my time got structured, I landed up spending 2 weeks in the Bentley before getting on a plane and then another solid week when I got back with the rest of the time being made up either online and on my own or coming into the Bentley in between classes as the Fall semester started. The exhibits turned out great! Back to my story, so now I had the 200 hours I needed to fulfill the rest of the PEP requirement and I was going to Uganda and Singapore!

Once I had confirmation of getting the scholarship from the African Studies Center, I kicked logistics into high gear. The timing of my trip/Summer worked out like this: May at the Bentley, June at NUS, July - beginning of August at the UNA, middle of August in Europe, Chicago for one week, the Bentley for one week, and then school starts. There would be no time to come home between Singapore and Uganda. After comparing prices, it was cheaper to purchase a Round The World plane ticket. These tickets work principally on a few tenants: you have to go in one direction around the world and you have to do it under so many miles or you have to pay more, also, you have one year to do it. If you have the money and the time, these tickets are worth it because you can easily add destinations with a minimum of hassle or monetary fuss. I sat down with a calendar and mapped out where I was going to be, when, and then started filling in the holes like hotel rooms. I also added side trips to Thailand and Malaysia when I was in Singapore. To finally fly home, I flew from Entebbe, Uganda to Brussels, Belgium and then made my way overland to Amsterdam, Netherlands to catch the flight to Chicago.

I also had to figure out packing for the trip. I took one suitcase, one laptop bag, and one nylon backpack for day trips. I kept my suitcase under 50lbs the entire trip. Once I added Uganda to the mix, I had to go to the travel nurse at the UM Hospital. She very kindly squeezed me in and then vaccinated me to within an inch of my life. I swear that I will probably never have worse than a cold for at least the next 3 years.

As I continued to work on logistics, and then spend my two weeks in the Bentley while couch surfing at a couple of friend's houses, I was awarded a second scholarship from SI. I was also notified that the professor in charge of the Uganda project had a grant and he was going to be able to give me some funding from that to help offset costs. All told, between the two scholarships and the grant money, Uganda was completely funded. I paid for Singapore out of pocket through loans.

To get to Singapore, I would board a plane in Chicago and then have a 2 hour layover in Tokyo. Total flying time was 22 hours. What really happened was that I got on a plane in Chicago and then sat in the plane at the gate for 5 hours and then we took off. It wasn't an auspicious start to the trip, but throughout, I kept my good humor and zipped my way through a couple hundred pages of the first book of a trilogy. Keeping good humor when doing a major trip like this is important and I knew that, so is having enough patience to fill a swimming pool. I got very lucky that my contact in Singapore waited for me even though I showed up at close to 4am instead of just before midnight.

My time at NUS was delightful. I spent the month engaging in various discussions about information literacy. In the end, I also gave presentations on preservation, library integration in course management software, and on a search tool used by MLibrary. I created an information literacy digital package for the librarians and I also participated in a disaster planning table top exercise. Singapore was a delight. The food was amazing and I had a lot of fun listening to so many languages being spoken around me. A big negative of the trip was the heat. I completely forgot how hot Asia is in the Summer. I felt like I was melting.

In the first days of July, I got on a plane and flew to Johannesburg, South Africa where I had a 5 hour layover. By this point, I had finished the first book in the trilogy and was now very well into the second one which I had picked up in Bangkok, Thailand. I finally got to Entebbe, Uganda just as the sun was going down and very luckily was met by my roommate and a taxi driver.
Uganda is an amazing place. It is completely different from everything that America is. The red dust is in everything. Produce like mangoes, finger bananas, and avocados are cheap and plentiful. I've never drunk passion fruit juice that was so delicious. This is all juxtaposed with grinding poverty and poor infrastructure. That said, my time at the UNA was awesome. It was a lot of hard work but my team and I cataloged a collection that was in 169 boxes and was comprised of 6900 files. I had wonderful conversations with the archives staff about archival policies in Uganda and I helped them develop user policies. I also did computer maintenance and set up an environmental monitoring system. In the 5 weeks that I was in Uganda, a friend of mine also visited and we were able to go on safari together. We saw hippo, giraffe, elephant, zebra, all sorts of antelope and so many different types of birds, I couldn't count them. My time in Uganda was fun, frightening, and awe-inspiring.
In August, I got on yet another plane and headed towards Brussels, Belgium. I helped an older couple find their seats. While we waited for the rest of the plane to fill, she asked me what I thought of Uganda. She stated that I must see Entebbe as a slum. I told her that Uganda is a place that has to be taken on its own terms. From an American vantage point, Entebbe does look like a slum but from a Ugandan's point of view, Entebbe is a thriving and prosperous city and that is exactly how I saw it. She thanked me for my honest answer and then we were away to Europe.

I spent a day in Brugge, a day in Brussels, and then 3 days in Amsterdam seeing amazing art and enjoying good food and reliable internet access. After 5 days in Europe, I boarded a plane for the final time to take me back where my journey began.

My trip by the numbers:
25,500 miles traveled
$12,000 approximate total cost
1680 pages read on planes in a trilogy in which the 3rd book has yet to be printed (ARGH!)
90 hours spent flying
85 days spent abroad
6 countries (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Uganda, Belgium, Netherlands)
3 scholarships/grants
2 international internships
1 world circumnavigated
My name is JJ Pionke and I spent my Summer fulfilling a dream.

Posted by kkowatch at January 4, 2013 02:33 PM


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