Emily Lush


Travel Confessions: Emily Lush on interning in Laos

Published July 25th, 2014

Is your heart longing for Laos? Enamoured by the flavours, colours and pace of Southeast Asian life? Magazine journalist Emily Lush left her heart in Laos on a recent holiday, and through a little determination, she found a way to come back by hooking up an internship at Ock Pop Tok - a fair trade textiles business in Luang Prabang. We caught up with Emily during her internship to hear tales about her love affair with Laos. If you think Laos could be for you too, find out more about our Gap Year programs.


Emily (right) in traditional dress in Laos.


How long do you plan to stay in Laos?

My internship is fixed for two months - just enough time to sink my teeth into some interesting, longer-term projects. I am in Laos for a total of 10 weeks, taking some time either side of work to do some travelling.


What's been the most rewarding experience from the internship so far?

The internship has opened up a lot of opportunities for me here, and the biggest rewards have been the connections I’ve made with other people. Luang Prabang is a very social place: I’ve probably met more people here in the last six weeks than I have in the last few years! It’s been really rewarding to form new friendships, to really relax into this culture and live like a local for a few months.


Emily (middle) and co-workers


What's been the most challenging experience?

Many of the things that make Laos such a great place to travel in, unfortunately make it a difficult place to work. I've had to get used to the phenomenon of 'Lao time' - a slow pace gives this place a laidback, peaceful vibe, but it also means that actioning things can take more time than usual. I’ve had to learn a new kind of patience and it’s been a challenge pushing myself to speak up and speak often when working with other people.


Have you learnt any local customs  or language?

It's difficult not to pick up a few customs along the way - when to take your shoes off, the correct way to slurp your soup. One thing I'm hoping to perfect before I leave is riding side-saddle on a scooter whilst wearing a sinh (ankle-length skirt)! In terms of language, I've found that most people want to practice their English with me. I've picked up a few Lao words here and there, including 'bopenyang' (translated as 'no worries') - debatably the most important word to know!


Ock Pop Tok fair trade textiles in Luang Prabang, Laos.


Are you learning new skills in the role?

Definitely. As well as the chance to practice the things I know, there have been plenty of learning curves. I arrived in the middle of peak tourist season and the company has been overhauling branding and marketing, so we’ve been flat out. Interning is always good for a new challenge: I’m often called on for random jobs, like styling scarves for a photo shoot or even modelling in a fashion parade!

But more than practical skills, I'm learning so much about the people here and the power of their voices. The personal side of this company is so important, both for communicating the fair trade message to engage our audience, and in fulfilling our philosophy to empower individuals - the weavers, the makers - by creating an opportunity for them to play an active role in the business. Listening to their stories is a really important skill.


Ock Pop Tok fair trade textiles


Do you see this experience giving you a new career inspiration or pathway?

I see this experience as solidifying my passions and giving me the push to commit to the pathway I've chosen. I'm surrounded every day by inspiring people - whether it's the entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe who have converged here to start small businesses, or Lao people - incredibly brave, motivated people far younger than me who are leaving home, learning a new language and new skills to better their lives and the lives of their families. This trip has definitely broadened my horizons in terms of living and working overseas.


Are you on a break from uni and what are you studying? 

I'm halfway through my Masters Degree, studying a Masters in Communication for Social Change at the University of Queensland. Although I'm not using the internship as credit, what I've seen and learnt here definitely feeds back into my studies.


Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.