Internship Exchange Programme
Intern at the International Humanist and Ethical Union
in London during the summer of 2001:
Shannon Culek tells about her experiences
"It was just another evening in Lincoln, Nebraska, and as my ambition to relax outside waned from watching the Weather Channel's report of a hot and sticky atmosphere, I surrendered the evening to surfing the web. My email inbox was packed with junk mail, however there was one letter that seemed halfway legitimate. My eyes grew in shock as I quickly scanned the contents.
I had been selected as one of the IHEYO Summer 2001 interns -- I was going to London for four weeks! The reality of the news evaded me, for my previous summer plans had been to tolerate working in a textbook warehouse for four months. Now I was going to intern for an organization which valued the same principles of freedom, justice and tolerance that I did. What a difference a moment makes.
I arrived in London on July 22nd. Babu Gogineni, the IHEU Executive Director, was there to greet me at the airport and he gave me a guided tour of what was to be my home for the next four weeks. As we walked through central London, I was amazed by the countless historic buildings surrounding me along the narrow and winding streets.
Making our way through the heart of the city, we soon came upon the famous Conway Hall -- a building founded by and made for Humanists. It provides one of the only outlets for unrestricted free speech in London, and together with the Bradlaugh House (which is next door) make up the center for Humanist organizations in the UK such as the IHEU's International Headquarters, the British Humanist Association (BHA), the Rationalist Press Association (RPA) and the South Place Ethical Society (SPES).
At first I must admit that I was a little intimidated by the setting since my experience working in Humanist organizations was limited to my campus group. Luckily, Babu was extremely helpful. For instance, on my first day in the office he gave me a guided tour of the building and introduced me to some of the people working there from the RPA, the BHA and the SPES. After these initial introductions, it was much easier to set up interviews with the representatives, which gave me a great opportunity to learn about the inner-workings of each organization and observe what it was like to work for a Humanist group.
Of course, the real opportunity to understand the work involved in a Humanist organization came when I began my own work helping to re-launch the IHEYO. Babu and Vincent (the IHEYO International Coordinator) gave me a list of projects to start with such as: writing a brochure, composing letters to groups and magazines about the re-activated youth movement and helping to plan the IHEYO Conference in 2002.
Re-launching the IHEYO was quite a formidable task, and is still in the works, but I had a wonderful time and gained an invaluable experience helping to establish the foundation for an international Humanist youth network.
While I was engrossed in the IHEYO re-launching effort, I was also adapting to life in the epic city of London. In order to conserve money I stayed in a hostel, and I think it was there that I was truly able to find a new perspective on culture. In my first week I befriended people from all over the world: Tunisia, Columbia, Israel, Sweden and Brazil were among the most exotic.
Being from the homogeneous state of Nebraska, I was amazed at the variety of people, but even more at how much we could all relate despite our many cultural differences. It was an ideal atmosphere of friendly discourse.
We shared our different perspectives on issues like international affairs --which was refreshing and insightful -- while at the same time complaining together about the frustrations of daily life with work, public transportation and people.
It was during this time that I realized how valuable communication across international borders is-something that is often overlooked in the US. My motivation for re-launching the IHEYO became much clearer as I understood why this meeting of youths from around the world was so important. The current lack of communication and information on the international scale is something that desperately needs attention, and while reading websites and emails about other countries is helpful, firsthand experience is priceless.
It is all too easy to become distracted by everyday life and forget about the rest of the world. The reality of an idea or movement never quite seems to reach you until the person behind it is standing in front of you - that makes you remember.
Through my correspondences with young activists around the world I have felt the enthusiasm necessary for partnerships and coordination efforts that can set an unprecedented pace for the next generation of activism. We need only to realize it.
Within the framework of each local group there is room for international awareness, and the 2002 IHEYO Conference can be the starting point for this new era of youth Humanism. An era where we can demonstrate the beauty of rational thought and secular ethics together as a united front."