I arrived back in D.C. a few weeks ago and immediately jumped back into my life. I have a wedding to plan, I had to move into my new apartment, and I also had to transition back to my internship at the Southeast Asia program at CSIS.
Coming back to the office after spending over a month in the region had an interesting effect on my work. I was full of energy, I was inspired to publish more articles, and I had a much better understanding of Malaysia and Indonesia - two countries I had only a passing understanding of before my trip. At work I follow the news coming out of the Philippines and Thailand, and with a newfound appreciation of two more ASEAN countries (as well as a cultural appreciation of Cambodia after a 4-day trip), I felt like I was well on my way to becoming someone who could comfortable talk about all 10 ASEAN countries without sounding like an idiot.
My enthusiasm did not go unnoticed. When I described how I felt to my boss, she smiled and told me it was called the "Southeast Asia Buzz." When other people at work travel to the region, they tend to come back with their batteries charged and their brains firing on all pistons. It's a cycle that analysts have to go through. Sitting in an office, reading white papers and news stories and meeting with people who have been to the region is helpful, and it can even be enough to gain a pretty good understanding of what is happening on the ground -but there really is no substitute for being there.
Having now made my first trip to Southeast Asia, I feel much more confident when I speak and write about the region critically. In relative terms, it was a brief trip, but it will forever add weight to the work I do from now on. It also resigns me to a hard, but worthwhile cycle. I need to travel back to the region again and again to maintain this appreciation and keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening. This time, I saw over 200 million people vote in one of the largest young democracies in the world. Who knows what I'll see next time!