Last month I left my familiar student life in Germany behind to spend this summer as an intern at GWL.
Exchanging my university schedule for real life work experience and moving to a different country was definitely an exciting but also nerve-racking experience at first. Scotland welcomed me with a sleepless night in an Edinburgh hostel, some authentic weather consisting of non-stop rain and the shock of realizing that Glasgow basically feels like New York to someone who grew up in a small town.
But now, one month and many cups of tea later, I can safely say that the journey here was more than worth it. Everyone who steps through the doors of the library is greeted with so much enthusiasm and warmth that this place instantly feels like home. Volunteers and interns are valued as part of the team which is something that I wasn’t used to after hearing (and experiencing) too many horror stories of internships that mostly taught people how to make good coffee. Instead, everyone here is encouraged to contribute to all the different aspects of the library and learn from each other in the process.
All of this constantly reminds me in strange little ways of our anthropology department back at university. I fell in love with this study program and the people who are part of it almost three years ago. In very general terms, anthropology deals with all the different aspects of human nature – the way we communicate, interact and perceive the world around us. It has completely changed my perspective on everyday life and also basically involves people-watching for science – could there be anything better?
As such an open discipline, anthropology opens up so many career possibilities that it’s probably the closest thing to “I want to try so many different things that I can’t decide” that you can find. This is why after searching for an opportunity abroad for what seemed like ages, finding GWL and actually being offered a spot here felt like hitting the internship jackpot. So many things that I love about anthropology are reflected in the way the library works that it’s no wonder that it feels so much like home.
For example, anthropologists rely mostly on what we call “qualitative methods” – this means that we conduct interviews, focus on case studies and take a close look at individual perceptions of reality. We participate and temporarily become part of the communities we research, always aiming to actually give a voice to the people and places that we observe instead of simply speaking for them.
In a similar way, the collection of books and artifacts at GWL was not simply put together by a small group of people with a certain budget or authority. Instead it consists of donations from many different women and men and has grown organically over the years (and is still growing). This means that it is actually a very real representation of women’s lives instead of the perspective of an outsider or a small, privileged part of the community it is supposed to portray.
There are so many other similarities that I could probably ramble on about them for days. Celebrating difference, valuing individual experiences and perspectives, including everyone regardless of their background and telling the stories of people like you and me are some of the principles that initially drew me to anthropology. Seeing these things reflected in the everyday work at GWL is something that makes me incredibly happy.
It feels good to know that an organization can run smoothly and successfully while actually standing by their values instead of just using them as advertising. Everyone is simply nice to each other and it really makes you wonder why it can’t be like this all the time. Gathering work experience in such a positive and supportive environment is incredibly valuable as an intern and I look forward to the next few months full of smiles, books and cups of tea!