10 Ways FSD Will Make Your Experience Abroad Life-Changing
We know from our alumni that an experience abroad with FSD is life changing. The physical, cultural, and intellectual challenge of our international programs often results in a fundamental shift in perspective. By immersing themselves in new cultures, speaking foreign languages, and developing sustainable projects, interns have an experience that lasts a lifetime. Peter Chung, an intern in Cochabamba, Bolivia said, “I changed so much as a person while in Bolivia, and I could acknowledge that change while I was there. I learned to be away from my family, be more active in the outdoors, and smile more. It taught me to be more relaxed about life and the future, because I am so lucky to even have the resources that I have available to me. I learned to give back to a community even when I doubted my own abilities, I learned to be humble and I learned to be more charismatic with people very different from me. I am already using all of these lessons in the U.S. to improve my daily life and outlook, other people’s attitudes, and hopefully, I can impact my community more with the skills I learned in my host organization.”
But what makes a program with FSD a unique and life-changing experience? Although it is difficult to identify all the aspects that contribute to FSD’s success, we’ve identified 10 reasons why FSD will make your experience abroad a life-changing one.
- Training: An FSD program is not a study abroad, nor is it a volunteer program. We are working to train the next generations of leaders and we know that the best way to do this is to help them make a meaningful impact in their host community. To do this, we train all of our interns in asset-based community development. This model of community development changes the mindset of our interns so that they recognize the assets within the community where they are working.
- Continual Support: Sometimes traveling abroad can be difficult. The local cuisine might not sit well in your stomach, you may feel homesick, you may have challenges with cultural integration, or find it frustrating to actually accomplish something worthwhile in your community. Through an FSD internship, you are supported from before you arrive in-country and even after you have completed your program. When you have a difficult day at the office or are struggling to adjust to the local language, our team is there as a sounding board to help you come up with solutions and have a productive and enjoyable experience.
- Structure with Flexibility: Participants in FSD programs enjoy the support from our in-country staff, a clear outline of internship requirements, and training in order to accomplish their work. But built into this structure is also a fair amount of flexibility and freedom. Many volunteer programs will micromanage your time in your host community, or they will err on the other extreme of granting too much flexibility and lack of structure. Jordan Tucker, an FSD intern in Uganda said, “The structure of the program allowed me to experience many different parts of the country and learn from my host organization and host family while still learning about myself in the process.” FSD programs create an ideal balance between creative independence and a supportive network of professionals to help guide you during your internship.
- In-Country, Local Staff: The best way to learn about a country or a community is from a local. They understand things they way only a native can. This is why we hire locally born staff to support our interns. These staff members have a love for sustainable development and intercultural exchange, and because they are locals, they are able to provide insight into the specific needs within the community that is essential for success in a community-based internship program. In fact, the FSD Site Teams become a source of professional guidance for many interns. Reilly Brooks, an intern in Kenya mentioned that her team exceeded her expectations. “The site team provided me support beyond what I expected, I view them as a social, professional and emotional support system."
- Reciprocal Relationships: We work year-round to build relationships with community organizations that have a desire to host an international intern. Through this relationship building and the training we provide for interns, we can ensure that the relationships have reciprocal benefits. Not only is the intern gaining experience and insight through the internship program, but the community is receiving a helpful resource in the project completed by the intern. Many other programs focus solely on the experience of the volunteer which can cause more harm than good within the community. FSD Argentina alumna, Eileen Valverde said of her experience, “Thanks to this program, I feel like I have gained a completely new understanding of what it means to serve a community and be a volunteer. I realized the importance of getting to know the community and the people in it before attempting to help or change anything. I was shown how valuable relationships are not only in the social sphere but in the workplace.”
- Safe Environment: We take the safety of our interns very seriously and we employ many safety measures to ensure that participants are kept from harm during their time abroad. Our local staff will train all interns in health & safety during their in-country orientation and provide guidance throughout their internship. We also vet all of our community organizations and host families to ensure that they meet the highest standards of safety for our program participants.
- Workplan Development and Grantwriting: Each FSD intern is required to develop a workplan as part of the internship process, and they have the opportunity to write a grant proposal for additional project funding. This means that interns not only participate in project work, but they actually write and develop a project with their community partner, execute the workplan, and write reports and follow-up on the project. These project management skills help our interns understand the importance of planning for sustainable outcomes and guarantee that projects will last long after the internship has come to a conclusion.
- Diverse Community Partners: Because we partner with more than 200 grassroots community organizations, there are ample opportunities for our interns to apply their coursework while gaining new skills and benefiting the community. Interns working with our community partners in the past have worked in public health, human resources, engineering, research, finance, public policy, curriculum development, web design, business development, public relations, radio broadcast, graphic design, youth empowerment, and many more. Because our interns are able to match their skills with our community partners, they are more likely to have an experience that will set them up for success in the future.
- Individual Placements: As part of the FSD internship, all interns work one-on-one with a community partner, thus having an opportunity to really develop their individual skills and integrate into the local culture. This pushes many outside of their comfort zone, but it also allows for a lot of growth as part of the experience. In Nicaragua, Andrea Ringer commented that “the structure of the FSD internship in which I participated was such that I was working alone at my host organization. This made the experience very difficult and challenging, because I had no one with whom I could lean on for support or with whom I could share ideas or concerns. However, being on my own forced me to develop relationships with the employees at my host organization and take the initiative to carry out a project on my own accord. After several weeks, I realized the ways in which I had grown that would not have been possible if I would have been working with other foreign students. The discomfort and challenge of my internship made it all the more rewarding.”
- Based on Core Values: FSD is an organization based around a core set of values and principles. These values guide everything we do and have shaped the programs we offer. When Alicia Robb founded FSD in 1995, she did so with a deliberate purpose - to create a development organization, which empowered underserved communities to voice their needs and participate in the implementation of locally managed solutions. After more than 20 years, we still hold true to her vision. In India, FSD intern Gina Daniel recognized these values during her internship. “I just love the organization and core values of FSD. This experience has greatly changed me, and it would not have been possible without the support and connections and knowledge I have received from FSD. I think the site team, host family, and single intern paired with a host organization made this internship very unique and more integrative (which I really appreciate!).”
FSD is committed to innovation and growth of its development model and international programs. We are not afraid to adjust and change methodology or partnerships to ensure the best possible outcomes for both our participants and the community. We are passionate about our mission and our model and invite you to participate alongside our staff in a once in a lifetime experience as an international intern.