For a Dream

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2019 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Hazel Shen, SP2 ’20

Stepping Stones International (SSI)—-The NGO where I worked for three months.


Left: Malia, another intern from Penn. Middle: Tinny, our host Mom. Right: Me.

It was the end of my three-month journey in Botswana and it was so hard to say goodbye.

My NGO secretly scheduled a farewell party on the last day of my internship. We sat in a circle and my colleagues took turns to share their feelings about me and their thankfulness. It was pretty emotional and my co-workers, who worked in the same department with me, started to cry. All those tears, hugs and love made me cry and laugh all the time. Later, we had our lunch. My colleagues either made some traditional dishes or bought some local food from the market. It was a feast!

Before I left, I spent the whole week writing the thank you cards to all 52 people in the NGO. With the thank you cards, each of them also received a small piece of Chinese calligraphy as a gift. Writing those words reminded me of all the moment we were together, and it seemed like a reflection of my time in Botswana. I love these people and I know that they love me too.

I kept saying that in the past three months, I think more about my language, my culture and my background than the past two years in the US. To be honest, as an international student, I never thought about the importance of my identity as a Chinese, as an Asian, until I live in Africa. It is really sad that seldom do people care about my language and my background in our class or in our school. But here in Botswana, people show respect and curiosity about me and my culture, which made me feel proud and happy.

It is really interesting that I can find so many similarities in East Asian culture and African culture. In Botswana, people extremely care about their families and communities, and sometimes, that is their first priority. We attended weddings and funerals in the village, you can always see neighbors and churchmates came to help the family cook the food, do the dishes and bring all the plates and containers from their own houses. In the community, people share their joy and happiness, as well as facing suffering as a unity.

Nowadays, life is more westernized, but people still maintain and reserve their tradition. People keep wearing their custom clothing and accessories when they go to an official occasion. In those official occasions and family

What I left on the wall in SSI.

parties, people keep serving traditional dishes. People respect their history and their culture.

It’s a shame that I had known nothing about Botswana before I went there —- actually, I knew just a little about Africa, not to mention holding those stereotypes. This experience just changes my mind and my life. I love my job in the NGO and enjoy my life in the village. Now I have lots of families and friends in another continent. I got to know how NGOs work in Africa, I learned how social work developed in Botswana, I understood why HIV/AIDS developed so quickly in Africa and how could we do to change people’s lives there. Thanks to this chance, I have much clearer picture of my career path in the future. I believe that I will be back one day in the near future. Not for traveling, but for a dream.

By Career Services
Career Services