Sitting in the airport with 5 hours of sleep from the night before, after 4 years of flying back and forth between Toronto, Vancouver, and the occasional other destination, this is no longer a novel experience.
However, today is different.
Today I leave for a 6 week internship with Taylor’s University in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. The project I’ll be working on is called Raising Awareness with Reaction, which is aimed at educating high school students and the general public about HIV/AIDS. This internship was arranged through AIESEC, and I’ll be joining 6 other students from around the world. We’ll be sharing an apartment together in addition to working on the same project.
I am truly excited to be travelling in Malaysia, which has been a dream destination for me ever since coming across Rasa Malaysia, a marvelous food blog that sparked my interest in Malaysia food and culture. After being involved with the Canada-Malaysia Nutrition Project, I felt like I would like to learn more about the country. So when I came across this internship in Malaysia, I knew that I wanted to apply.
With regards to the internship itself, I approach it with cautioned enthusiasm. I am very interested in helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and I am a firm believer in preventative healthcare. Personally, I hope to approach this project as an opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. By bringing the issue to the forefront, we can begin to have open conversations about this disease. Much of what I’ve learned about HIV/AIDS came from the UBC Wellness Centre. As a volunteer, we receive training on a variety of topics, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The attitude I have towards HIV is very much reflective of the attitude of a very privileged Canadian. I think of it as a chronic condition that can be managed/ controlled with the help of antiretroviral medication, as long as the individual is not abusing any substances, and has access to housing, food, and social support. I do not believe in blaming the victim (ie: he / she deserved it). Truth is, I don’t know enough about the realities of living with this disease and how it impacts the multi-faceted existence in which human beings live. I know very little about HIV in Canada, and even less about HIV in Malaysia. I’m interested in finding out how students in Malaysia approach HIV given their diverse cultures set in an officially Islamic country.
If it hasn’t been clear, I’m not sure what I’ve set out to accomplish by participating in this exchange. I feel a little over my head: there are people who dedicate their life’s work to HIV prevention in Malaysia, and I’m not sure if our group will be able to achieve anything meaningful in 6 short weeks. This is a bit difficult to swallow for myself, since I’m normally a very goal oriented person, and I can get frustrated if there isn’t a clear destination. From what I’ve heard from past AIESEC exchange participants, projects don’t always go as planned. I expect this to be a good exercise in learning to be flexible with any situation.
A big piece of the puzzle that’s missing right now are my fellow exchange participants: