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Connect-123 Cape Town Internships
Mary is a student at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, USA and is double majoring in Economics and Accounting. She loves to travel and previously studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland and Antwerp, Belgium. Mary hopes to pursue a career in economic development and research after graduation.
Why did you decide to intern abroad with Connect-123 in Cape Town?
Mary: I knew I wanted to go abroad, but really was unsure of the program and even where. I talked to advisors and other study abroad students from my school, but the most helpful part was going onto websites and reading the testimonials of people that had previously done the program. After researching Connect-123, I knew it was a reliable company that had a lot to offer.
I actually originally intended to go to Dublin, Ireland on the Connect program, but as I continued to look at everything Cape Town had to offer, I really couldn't resist! I knew it was a different enough environment that I would be challenged in ways and would constantly be learning. Going to Cape Town was the perfect environment to study the socio-economic issues that I am interested in.
What made this experience unique and special?
Mary: Spending 2 months in Cape Town with Connect-123 was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. From getting greeted at the airport to attending the weekly events, I felt that Connect really made sure that I felt welcome and comfortable in the new city. The entire experience seemed personalized and the program coordinators made sure that all of the interns were getting the most out of the experience.
My internship was above and beyond what I expected. I got to do really interesting things like writing grant proposals and researching partners and creating strategic visions for future projects. I also had the awesome opportunity of working with a research team that went out to the townships and interviewed entrepreneurs. This experience gave me a well-rounded understanding of economic and social issues in Cape Town. These conversations in the townships were some of the things that I valued most about my internship because it was so different than what I expected and I learned a lot every time. I also had the unbelievable experience of going on a business trip with my boss to Johannesburg for 5 days. While there, I was able to attend meetings with potential partners and at times, my boss even let me help lead the meetings! I felt so much more confident in my professional skills after this experience because my boss saw sought out every opportunity to teach me a new lesson.
What was the highlight of this experience?
Mary: Outside of the office, Cape Town was really a dream city. The apartment was in the middle of the city and within walking distance to so much good food and lots of activities. Every morning, I ate breakfast overlooking Table Mountain, which was a surreal experience every day. There were tons to do on weekends as well. Some of my favorite things to do were sand boarding in the dunes outside of Cape Town, hiking Table Mountain and Lion's Head and surfing in Muizenburg. Even though it was winter there, there was always SO much to do! Truly never a dull moment. I also took a long weekend with a group of my Connect-123 friends and went on the "Garden Route," a popular travel route for adventure seekers. On this trip, we went on a game drive, pet lions, rode ostriches and even did the world's highest bridge bungee jump! This trip was probably one of my favorite memories because it was so unique to the country.
How has this impacted your future?
Mary: At the beginning of my time in Cape Town, I thought I would become a Certified Public Accountant and work in a cubicle after graduation. However after my internship in Cape Town, I am so inspired to continue in the field of economic development that I was exposed to in South Africa. I am hoping to do work in public policy and economic research and I know my internship abroad will really set me apart from other applicants. I continue to stay in contact with my coworkers and South African friends who are helping me with opportunities post-graduation. The connections I made in South Africa are so important to me and my time abroad has absolutely changed the way I look at the world. Cape Town was a fascinating microcosm of the socio-economic issues that our world faces today. I am so thankful for my time in South Africa and the facilitation of my experience through Connect-123!
What is one piece of advice you would offer to someone considering interning in Cape Town?
Mary: I would say do it. No matter the discipline, Cape Town offers the environment of challenging constructs that are taught in the classroom. I can think of countless examples of when my textbook learning was brought to life through conversations with my coworkers and the entrepreneurs in the townships. So many people I met were open to new ears and eyes and so welcoming. Cape Town is also a really fun place to be in your 20s. There is a great night life and so many outdoor activities that constantly left me exhausted in the best way possible. The office environment is extremely casual and laid back, and though this can be frustrating at times, it allows for a lot of flexibility in project management. I found my time in Cape Town to be extremely rewarding and I will never regret this experience because it has already opened so many doors.
Why did you decide to intern abroad with Connect-123 in Cape Town?
Sangeeta: I am interested in human rights and international law - especially refugee law. These are big areas of concern and interest in South Africa, with UNHCR stating that at the end of 2011, South Africa continued to be the country with the highest annual number of asylum applications. This shows the extent of the issue in South Africa and made Cape Town the perfect place to get some international work experience in my area of interest.
Cape Town is also a beautiful city with tons of fun tings to do! It is important for me to be able to have fun in a city after a hard day at work and not to be bored on the weekends. Cape Town provided this with amazing beaches, hiking trails, outdoor activities, sporting events, festivals, nightlife and culture...there was something happening every week!
Connect-123 offered a great package in Cape Town, which provided me with an instant network of friends and social events as well as logistical support. This made integrating into a different country much easier and allowed me to make the most of my internship experience.
What made this internship experience unique and special?
Sangeeta: This internship was unique because it had everything! Usually when I go overseas, one aspect will be great but another will be disappointing. This was not the case for South Africa - the work was amazing, the people were wonderful and the country is just beautiful. I enjoyed going into work everyday. I was working in the area I was passionate about and the team I worked with was supportive, fun and absolutely inspiring. The knowledge and skills I gained were more than I expected. The people I met, both at work and outside, were fun and always up for exploring South Africa and trying new things. I definitely did not get enough sleep while living in Cape Town! South Africa is an amazing country and there are so many incredible things to do - hiking, beaches, safari and shark-cage diving just to name a few! My friends and I fully immersed ourselves in the beautiful culture and lifestyle of South Africa by trying something new almost everyday and we were never bored.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Sangeeta: Professionally, my experience provided me with relevant knowledge as well as practical hands-on experience. I worked in areas such as refugee law, land reform and gender violence. Tasks I was required to complete included client intake and interviews, research, drafting legal documents, undertaking negotiations with Government departments and the police, as well as attending court hearings. I believe that obtaining such practical experience from Day 1 in an area of interest was invaluable and really set me up in my field.
Personally, being overseas for two months in a new country took me out of my comfort zone...but in a good way! I became more independent and confident as I had to do everything myself. I also became more culturally aware and conscious of the diversity that exists in life by making friends across the globe as well as with locals. There is something amazing about learning about another culture (from their legal system and history to the food they eat) and being able to experience it!
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning abroad in Cape Town?
Sangeeta: I strongly recommend interning in Cape Town! However, realistically, it may not be for everyone. I would say that there are a few factors to consider before interning in Cape Town:
- Are you a flexible person who adapts well to different cultures or do you enjoy being in your comfort zone? The culture in Cape Town is very different to what we often experience in the Western world. If you are someone who cannot adapt easily to new environments perhaps look more into the South African culture and whether you could handle living as a local there.
- Are you an outdoors person? Cape Town is known for its outdoor lifestyle and most of the activities revolve around being outdoors (hiking, beaches etc). However, this is not to say that you will not enjoy Cape Town if you are not an outdoors person.
- Should you intern through a program or individually? Interning through a program provides many advantages such as logistical support, social events and an instant network which is great when in a new country. However, interns in their late twenties might find themselves feeling 'left out', as these programs tend to attract a younger crowd (not always so please check!)
I believe that everyone can find a situation that suits them in Cape Town and have an amazing time there. For example, even if you cannot adapt easily to new cultures, there are places to stay in Cape Town that are similar to those in Western societies. For example, if you are not an outdoors person, there are plenty of festivals, museums and restaurants to make sure you are busy every week. The above factors are aimed more to identify potential problems so that they can be mitigated and allow you to have an amazing internship experience!
Jackie has traveled South Africa far and wide and has a love for all of its beautiful game parks, beaches and destinations. After school she found herself bitten by the travel bug and before long was exploring Europe. She spent a year living in London raising funds for a number of charities and has seen the likes of Netherlands, Scotland, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Jackie has an Honors degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of Cape Town. While studying at university Jackie filled her spare time working for a team building company and tutoring students. Jackie loves to wine and dine and take weekend breaks. She has joined Connect-123 due to her passion for travel and people and to help facilitate the same eye opening experiences that she values so dearly.
What makes interning in Cape Town a unique experience for participants?
Jackie: Interning in Cape Town is a unique experience as it exposes students and graduates alike to a city filled with diversity and is truly a melting pot of cultures! Interning in Cape Town will allow you to interact with people of all nationalities and from all over Africa exposing one to a number of languages and a multitude of cultures all coexisting in this beautiful city. South Africa is not called the "Rainbow Nation" for no good reason. While South Africa has 11 official languages, down in the Western Cape you would mostly hear English, Xhosa and Afrikaans but not to worry, English is the language of Business, so you will have no problem communicating in a work setting or in everyday life.
Due to South Africa's history of inequality there are a vast number of internship opportunities in the field of human rights, education, social work and human rights law not to mention a range of social entrepreneurship, economic development and e-commerce start up organizations offering placements in the field of marketing and business strategy. Connect-123 also offers a wide range of medical and public health internship opportunities, giving students otherwise incomparable experience in the field of healthcare in a developing country!
What can you tell us about the workplace culture in Cape Town?
Jackie: The workplace culture is much more laid back than one would be used to in for example the United States. You will need to adapt to what is called "Africa Time" i.e. meetings rarely start when they are supposed to and take place in a much more informal social setting over a cup of coffee. These often start off discussing social topics and slowly move toward the topic up for discussion. Tasks and responsibilities may have less formal deadlines and when awaiting tasks, feedback or pieces of work you will need to watch out for the use of South African slang like "Just now" and "Now now" which in fact does not mean right now but rather anytime in the foreseeable future, more likely later today or tomorrow. However, that being said the work culture and environment will differ depending on the field that you are working in e.g. nonprofit vs business as well as the specific company. Working hours are generally quite flexible and dress code more likely to be casual. Most days start off with a social chat and end with a drink after work and everyone is expected to take turns to make coffee!
Do interns need prior work experience in order to apply for this internship? How does Connect-123 ensure a rich professional experience during this internship?
Jackie: No previous work experience is required, however it is beneficial. Students will be matched according to their education, interest, knowledge, experience and personality. We advise students on resume preparation for attaining certain placements prior to arrival and run workshops on communicating the value of their Cape Town experience during their time in Cape Town. We also offer individual assistance on resume writing and interview preparation. We provide continual guidance and have a feedback session half way through the interns time to discuss the placement and learning process. Prior to an intern departing, we hold a take off talk to discuss how the opportunity has added to their global and cultural awareness. Taking part in an international internship allows students to network with other like-minded students around the world and we provide a platform for all alumni to stay connected.
What are some extra-curricular activities participants enjoy while interning in Cape Town?
Jackie: This is where the Mother City really shines...with the sea, mountains, wine farms, safaris, night life and much much more right on your doorstep you will never be at loss for activities or adventure! We organize a range of trips and discounts from service providers whether it be climbing Table Mountain for panoramic views of Cape Town, sky diving, shark cage diving, surfing, paragliding, bungee jumping, bridge swinging, swimming with penguins, traveling to the Southern most point of Africa or visiting Mandela's cell on Robben Island, there is an endless list of things to do!
Trips and activities could also include enjoying a braai 'aka' barbecue at Mzoli's, a local hot spot for enjoying local music and South African meat, learning a foreign language or going on a township tour to learn about different areas, cultures and the history of Cape Town. While in Cape Town many interns make the time to explore the beautiful Franschhoek and Stellenbosch valleys with endless wine farms, hikes and quaint towns. Lastly the highlights include popping over to Zambia to see the majestic Victoria Falls, or spending a few nights in Kruger Park viewing the Big Five! A trip up the East coast (The Garden Route) is not to be missed where you can bungee jump from the 3rd highest point in the world, see endless elephants in Ado Elephant park, learn to surf in Jefferey's Bay and experience the breath taking Tsitsikamma forest!.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering interning in Cape Town?
Jackie: If you are looking for a diverse experience Cape Town is the place to be. Cape Town will offer you an opportunity to learn and grow, not only on an internship, cultural and global level but has offered many interns an eye opening experience on a personal level. Cape Town is a combination of the developed and developing world and there are still many people living below the breadline and for this reason has humbled many and inspired others with its possibility for change and opportunity! You will need to be flexible, open minded and display a level of patience for the everyday workings of the city and its people.
Anything else you would like to share?
Jackie: If you have a passion for people, culture, diversity, beauty and travel then you cannot go wrong with an internship experience in Cape Town. One last thing...Cape Town is known to have 4 seasons in one day! So come prepared for rain, wind and a whole lot of sunshine:-)
Connect-123 develops and administers internship programs in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa; Shanghai, China; Dublin, Ireland; and Barcelona, Spain. In all countries, internship opportunities are hosted by local companies, non-profit organizations, schools, research institutes and health care clinics. In South Africa, study abroad programs are offered through the University of Cape Town.