When I decided I was going to write a blog post about my experiences so far this summer I spent probably (definitely) too long trying to come up with some sort of catchy opening sentence that would simultaneously 1) show that I’m funny 2) demonstrate ~all~ the knowledge I’ve learned (aka how smart I am) and 3) give other people “fomo.” Then, when I failed miserably at creating this all-powerful sentence, I decided to take a step back and actually think about how my experience interning for the US Embassy in El Salvador actually pertains to International Development. Not surprisingly (especially considering my original attitude) what kept coming to mind were two things: privilege and the White Savior Complex.
Discounting the fact that my house here does not have wifi, it can be so easy to forget that I’m living in El Salvador. I have access to the same stores I do at home, a great gym and swimming pool, and I can head to the beach for a weekend trip with minimal planning. While these perks have me counting my blessings, they also have me wondering about the extent to which I should be working to get to know the “real” El Salvador. Can I really claim to have lived in a country, to “know” a country, if I am constantly surrounded by people, places, and things that remind me of the United States? At the same time, though, I am only here for two months, and it would be ignorant and conceited if I thought any efforts made by me in this time could come close to impacting deep-rooted developmental problems, such as increasing economic disparities, gang violence, or lack of infrastructure.
Furthermore, because I am working for the US Embassy, and not an NGO or non-profit, I think it can be easier to ignore the variety of developmental issues and moral conundrums that present themselves in countries considered “underdeveloped.” My work is so interesting, new, and focused specifically on the US-Salvadoran relationship, that it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks at hand and the United States’ foreign policy, security, and economic goals, and consequently ignore overall development trends and the United States’ impact on sustainable development in El Salvador.
I don’t really have an answer about how to balance my desire to promote all-around development with the knowledge of my limited role, abilities, and time here. I think in some situations the most we can do in the moment is start a conversation, educate ourselves, and strive to never stop learning. I’m inspired by my fellow interns who sit in the kitchen of our house with me and talk for hours about US foreign policy and the strides our generation has made towards tolerance and cultural awareness (big factors in sustainable development!), as well as by my Salvadoran co-workers at the Embassy who have taught me everything I know about both the Consular Section and the country in general. I am learning to recognize the United States’ progress – not only have the last two ambassadors to El Salvador both been female, they have also actually known Spanish, a first for the embassy – while also understanding that the United States cannot (and should not) consider itself solely responsible for El Salvador’s “development.”
I really could go on and on in a similar vein (slightly vague and inconclusive, but somehow development oriented), so instead I’ll end witha plug for my internship – I’ve learned a ton, am (usually) mentally stimulated, and the people are awesome – and a request that we all take a minute to educate ourselves on the social, economic, and political strengths and weaknesses of wherever we happen to be right now.