“Americans think everything needs to be done America first. Here we do things South Africa first.”
Work has been a little slow this week. Monday, one of our meetings was cancelled. Tuesday, our boss gave us the day off for the Fourth of July. On Wednesday and Thursday the printer broke. On Friday the wifi was down.
“We have our own operation to run here. It’s not just about the Americans.”
I feel guilty sitting at my desk during a cancelled meeting or when the wifi is down. I wonder what I could be doing to be more productive. Should I find Mandy and ask? She’s not at her desk. Do I email her?
“We don’t normally work with Americans for this exact reason.”
Why should I feel guilty? I’m doing everything that is asked of me. In fact, more than what is being asked. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough.
So what should I do when Mandy tells us it’s time to go home early for the second day in a row? How do I reconcile my desire to make an impact with the importance of respecting my boss and her desired work environment?
District Six is old school. The organization rarely uses email, works a lot with older generations, and relies on face-to-face collaboration. The pace is slow and not a lot gets done in two months.
The first day we started the internship, Mandy spoke to us about the importance of jumping on the moving train and not starting our own. Every time I’ve been frustrated with the pace of the office I’ve reminded myself of that.
So this week, when we spoke as a group about not coming home early and taking these next two weeks seriously, I was confused. At first I felt that guilt return, but I also felt a pang of discomfort. I completely agree that we should make sure to put everything we have into these last two weeks, but if Mandy tells me to go home early, does that negate those efforts?
I recognize the honorable intention behind these statements, but it was hard to separate them from their undertones of American exceptionalism. If my boss tells me to go home early, shouldn’t I go home?
My understanding was that the purpose of DukeEngage was to recognize that you’re not the most important person in the room, to understand that you weren’t going to show up to an office and fix all of its “problems,” and to change your world and not the norms of the people around you.
I can’t change the pace of District Six, nor should I want to.
Our boss is extremely busy, and I frankly think it would be rude to ask for more work every single time I finished mine early. We need to remind ourselves that District Six was not created with the sole purpose of partnering with programs like DukeEngage. We need to see ourselves in the background rather than the foreground. We need to get on the moving train and not start our own.
Where does one draw the line between altruism and narcissism? Where does being an efficient intern end and being a nuisance begin? There have been many days on this program where this line has been blurred.
Some offices don’t have the infrastructure to support an intensive internship program. It doesn’t mean these spaces don’t need interns and that their internships don’t serve a purpose. It just means their interns can’t expect to be occupied every second of every day.
I recognize that what I’m doing is more than enough and by our boss’ standards is “great.” It’s been a challenge to accept being enough rather than doing the absolute most. But I’ve learned to accept it. I just hope I’m not disappointing anyone.