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Spotlight on a TELL Summer Intern

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So this is officially the last week of my 10-week internship at TELL, which is completely mind-blowing! Not only have I acquired resume-worthy professional skills, I feel like I just completed a crash course on the inner workings of a non-profit and event-planning.

And here comes the most cliché punch. This summer in Tokyo pushed me to adopt a more independent and take-charge attitude. Moving to a new city is always scary, but imagine moving to a city where you don’t speak the language. Everything becomes a challenge; something as simple as asking for directions or ordering a dish off a menu is suddenly this huge ordeal of pointing, charades, and overly-exaggerated facial expressions. It can be an adventure, but it can also be immensely frustrating to feel so incapable of expressing thoughts or ideas to another person. It also doesn’t help that I look like a local, so many people automatically begin speaking to me in Japanese. It is only after they notice my glazed and bewildered expression that they get the hint.

I’ve been abroad before for long periods of time. I interned in Taipei last summer and my Mandarin was fluent enough to get by. I studied abroad in Edinburgh last fall, so language wasn’t a barrier (unless you found yourself in Glasgow attempting to ask a local for directions). When I was abroad, I did travel to other countries where I couldn’t speak the language, but I was accompanied by friends who I could speak freely in English with. This summer marked the first time I was immersed in a city where I knew absolutely nothing: no friends and no language skills. And surprisingly, it was not a train wreck! I met so many fascinating people, spontaneously ran into a bunch of old faces, saw breath-taking sights, tasted heavenly food, and contributed to a cause I have been strongly attached to.

Since my treacherous hike up Fuji, I tried to take it a bit easier on the tourist front. I took a weekend trip to Kyoto and Osaka with some friends. It was ridiculously hot! During the entire weekend, there was not a single moment where we were not lugging around a two-liter bottle of water, courtesy of Family Mart. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari Shrine, where we climbed up to the peak and purchased a couple lucky charms. The next day, we grabbed breakfast at Nishiki Market before taking the train to Osaka. Then, relying on Google maps and some broken Japanese, we managed to rent bikes and successfully navigate to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove from Osaka Station. It was a 3 hour round trip, and the sun was ruthless. We concluded our outing with a nice soak at the onsen. Osaka is amazing and a great foodie city. We feasted on mouth-watering vinegar ramen in Namba, okonomiyiaki from a local vendor, and condensed-milk drizzled melon kakigori. I have become an expert at reading kakigori flavors in katakana.

Thank you, TELL, for such a unique learning experience. I honestly did not know what to expect working at a mental health non-profit and clinic, nor did I know how much I could genuinely contribute, given my seemingly incompatible academic background in computer science. But I definitely gained insights and exposure to such a wide range of roles within the office that will certainly benefit my future career. I also gained a better understanding on the importance of mental health and how it can affect so many other aspects of one’s life. For anyone who is even mildly curious about mental health or psychology or even helping people, I definitely recommend interning at TELL. The knowledge and skills you gain are immensely practical and applicable in other fields, but what highlights this experience isn’t that; it is leaving work every day knowing that you have had a direct impact on the fight to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health, and a direct impact on the fight to save lives.