Despite Tammy Williams’ initial hesitation about sending her daughter to Colombia, after doing some homework and learning about The Intern Group’s 24/7 support, mom finally gave the thumbs up. Looking back, Tammy is grateful not just for Emily’s rewarding experience, but her own. After Emily’s life-changing internship working with foster children in Medellín, she brought Tammy back with her to experience Colombia’s magic for herself. “It’s not something I would trade,” Tammy says.
TIG: Tell us a little about working with The Intern Group. Walk me through the admissions process from your point of view.
Tammy: Quite frankly, I really had very little to do with this until closer to the end. Emily is an education major with a huge passion to work and teach abroad. She studied abroad in South Africa. Having grown up in different countries, she’d really like to do that sort of thing.
She reached out to me and told me what was going on pretty much right before “time to write the check” time. I had no real contact with The Intern Group until just before she left. I told her, as a mother, “I trust you and your judgment, but I’d like to know a little bit more about who I’m passing you off to, even though I know you’re a traveler and you’re aware of situations.” I was very nervous about having her go to Colombia, to be honest. She was nervous too, because Colombia was suggested to her by the group. And it was when she talked to the admissions officer, who really sat down with her on Skype and explained to her what Colombia was all about and what it was not about, that changed the perception that we had about Colombia being a drug-ridden cartel-operated country.
TIG: What made you ultimately say “yes”?
Tammy: The thing that got me with Colombia, I thought maybe I could get with Colombia, and then Emily said “Medellín”. And I thought, Medellín. If there’s one city that everybody knows about it’s Medellín because it has a really bad reputation. And then I thought I’m really not happy with this… but then I just kind of figured after Emily gave me all the links that it looked good. I liked how they looked. I suddenly realized, I don’t see how an organization that seems to be as upstanding as this one is would send someone into a danger zone, so to speak. It would do them no good whatsoever. Between me coming to that realization and Emily giving me feedback from her contact, it really really put my mind at ease with the whole situation.
TIG: How did you feel about sending your daughter to Colombia?
Tammy: I was nervous while she was there. But, when she went to South Africa I was nervous too. A lot of it is the other people you are connected with and how you conduct yourself. The packet that they provided had tips – what to do, what not to do – for me I saw it as basic common sense. For my daughter it was basic common sense. You don’t wear your Rolex on the street, but you wouldn’t do that in New York City. I was impressed by the stuff we got, because of the children of people who were not travelers or not experienced. I almost give them bigger kudos because for them to make a step like that is huge. It’s really a step into an oblivion, but it’s a good oblivion.
This would be my message to other parents. I was a little more prepared because I’ve traveled and experienced a lot. For those parents who are really entrusting their sacred possession, I was happy with how everything was handled. I appreciated the preparation they not only gave Emily, but they gave me. As a parent, it was very comforting. The big plus for me was the 24/7 contact. That was huge. Knowing that, yes Emily had housemates and the organization she went to work for, but that there was someone in the background watching out for her who was available 24/7. And, in fact, Emily, due to an illness, had to reach out to them and it was within hours that everything was resolved. That from a parent’s perspective is enormous.
“The big plus for me was the 24/7 contact.”
TIG: Was it a worthwhile experience?
Tammy: I think it was worthwhile on many levels. I am pretty sure that neither she nor I, because I went back with her when she left, neither of us would have ever had the pleasure of experiencing Colombia if it wasn’t for this. It definitely wasn’t on our radar, the country. Now that I know a little bit more about it and have met people down there, it just would have been extremely sad not to, so I’m very very happy… Emily fell in love with the people she was working with. She fell in love with the children that she was working with. One of the plus sides is that this trip cemented for her, her decision about what she wanted to do with her life. It just made it clearer that she was on the right path. She came back in August and we went back together in October for a little over ten days.
TIG: What is the most important aspect of the program from your perspective? The internship, accommodation, career training, the community or the 24/7 support?
Tammy: I would have to say it’s a tie between the internship and the 24/7 support. If I didn’t think the internship was worth it, or it didn’t seem interesting, she wouldn’t have gone…. From a parental perspective the 24/7 support is very important.
“We were greeted with totally open arms. Literally abrazo, physically and verbally. It was magical.”
TIG: How has your daughter changed throughout this entire experience? How do you feel after seeing her grow?
Tammy: Unbelievable. What made it more special for me was to see a new world through my daughter’s eyes and through my daughter’s actions. Everything where we were, everybody we met was because of her. We were greeted with totally open arms. “Wow. you’re Emily’s mother!” Literally abrazo, physically and verbally. It was magical. It’s not something I would trade. For me it’s huge, it’s a validation of one’s self and one’s child. I’m so, so glad she went to Colombia.
TIG: Anything else you would like to add?
Tammy: I think the fact that it really reaffirmed that she’s on the right path as to what she wants to do professionally and with her life, working in education in some capacity. Especially with children who don’t have access to what they should have and what is their human right, is an education, a valid, available education…. She’s still in touch with her coworkers down there. To be honest, if they could pay her, she would be there now… It’s affirming what she wants to do.
And I think interning abroad, I wish more people did it because I think it’s hugely important. As far as Colombia, the little I saw in a week, it’s a beautiful country, wonderful people. Yeah you’ve got to be careful, but you have to be careful everywhere. You just can’t judge a book by its cover. There were surprises there that I didn’t expect. I’m just delighted I was able to do it.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
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1. by Tammy Williams
2. by Tammy Williams