First Day Finished!

This summer I am working in an NGO called Libraries Without Borders or Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres just outside of Paris in an area called Montreuil. It was founded in 2007 by a French historian named Patrick Wiel with the original aim of supporting libraries with increased access to books and training for librarians. However, since Haiti’s calamitous 2010 earthquake, the organization has shifted into more and more international aid and development work. Currently, BSF has over 1.5 million beneficiaries across 30 different countries, 150 employees across 10 countries and an annual budget of 11 million Euros. Specifically, BSF devotes great effort to its flagship idea, the mobile library “Ideas Box”. Deployable in just 20 minutes in nearly any location in the world, the Ideas Box can carry up to 50 tablets, 10 computers, 500 books, a local server with countless offline resources, creative tools, and a large HD screen.

BSF as an organization resides firmly within the international aid and development space with other well known names such as Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross. Importantly, what makes BSF special is its continual focus on fostering learning environments and opportunities across the world in remote and disadvantaged locations. Much of BSF’s work is traditionally done in the wake of natural disasters and among migrant populations, but this is not the NGOs exclusive focus. BSF also completes ⅓ of its missions in Europe, serving underprivileged communities across France and other European countries. The COVID-19 pandemic also gave rise to many problems in the educational space which stranded many students in circumstances that required distance learning without easy access to school materials or the internet. BSF has played a large role in aiding those populations, with mobile libraries and personal donations to populations across the United States and Europe.

To be a part of such an important overarching mission was really important to me when searching for this internship and I hope to become a well oiled cog in the machine that strives to lower the global digital and educational gap. To be successful in BSFs environment, I think that communication will be the attribute that I need to focus on the most. Language barrier notwithstanding, when working with vulnerable populations such as Ukrainian migrants fleeing the recent invasion or Rhohingan migrants fleeing genocide, communication between desk workers can make a huge impact on peoples day to day life on the ground. Working in tandem with my team, I hope to communicate clearly and concisely in order to ensure the swiftest and most optimal response to any situation regarding BSF’s many branches. 

Moreover, having just had my first day, I can also say my French language skills will certainly be put to the test. As I have to learn many words not traditionally used in a classroom to communicate key details to my colleagues, I anticipate each day for the rest of internship to present at least ten or more words with which I have no previous experience. I think it is crucial to acknowledge both facets of communication, as language and efficiency simultaneously each have their own separate implications on how I best complete my tasks. Specifically, I hope to work on the clarity of my written French and the spontaneity of my spoken French. Improvements on both of these attributes will not just make me a more effective employee, but are also crucial bricks in the much larger brick road to French fluency.

Along similar lines, with this being my second professional experience in France, I am slowly realizing the value of negative reinforcement. While positive reinforcement is common in the US, your colleagues are more likely in France to make comments on what you can do better in your tasks than praising what you have already managed to complete. This is not necessarily because they do not value the work that you are doing, but more so to encourage you to correct small details and mistakes until your work becomes as close to perfect as possible. While I am still not completely comfortable with this change in feedback as of the present, I recognize the value of becoming more thick skinned when receiving more negative responses to the work that I produce. It is my hope that by the end of my experience at BSF, the negative feedback will become small, and then in turn even smaller, as I strive for a higher level of competency in my written French.

I still have 8 more weeks to go, but I know that by the end of this experience, I will be thankful for each little bump along the way. Overall, I am nothing but excited for the rest of my experience!