Africa is one of the most intriguing, vast, complex and beautiful continents on Earth. Famous for its iconic megafauna, impressive landscapes, and diverse cultural heritage, Africa is an exciting place to gain international work experience as an intern.
The people of Africa live within a wide spectrum of economic situations and standards of living, yet, manage to uphold a boundless taste for adventure and opportunity, making it the perfect place for young professionals seeking to flex their creative muscles.
Development is pulsing forward in this vibrant and often misunderstood place, allowing interns not only an immense opportunity to learn, but also to make a lasting impact in their area of choice.
Africa’s developing nature lends itself to offering many charity and NGO internships. While internships in Africa are available in just about every industry, here is a list of the more common ones:
- Community development and education: Since much of Africa’s population lives in poverty, and has less than adequate access to education, internships in this field are common! As an education or community development intern you can expect to be working anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Medical, health, and humanitarian: Hospitals are often understaffed and underfunded in Africa. Interns working in this field can expect to work in rough situations and in basic living conditions, but can also expect to make a tangible difference in people’s lives! Medical & healthcare internships are primarily located in western Africa.
- Environmental and wildlife conservation: Africa’s commitment to wildlife conservation is one of the largest draws for international volunteers and interns. These types of internships are most readily available in southern and eastern Africa.
- Tourism and hospitality: Tourism is one of Africa’s most important industries! While tourism internships can be found across the continent, you may find your internship most rewarding if you choose a country with established tourism infrastructure such as South Africa, Botswana, and Tanzania.
The largest change in work culture you will notice from your home county to Africa is the infamously known as “Africa time” – a term often used by foreigners to explain the phenomenon of many things happening at glacier pace across the continent. The fierce ambition to succeed in the workplace is also not as severe in Africa as it is in the United States or United Kingdom, so you can expect the ambiance of your workplace to be productive but relaxed.
The work culture you will experience as an intern will depend entirely on where you are placed; each different country or ethnic area will be different. You should make a point of researching the cultural norms in the area you are visiting and talking to your program managers to get a better idea of what to expect.
As a rule of thumb, politeness and friendliness are worth their weight in gold in Africa. Expect to work hard and have fun during your internship! Many areas of Africa are rapidly developing, calling on the young workforce to become increasingly productive and resourceful.
When and where to look for an internship
Keep logistics in mind when looking for your internship! Some areas of Africa can be difficult or expensive to access, require medical preparation, or be potentially dangerous. Depending on the type and location of your internship you should also be prepared for very basic living conditions and little access to the outside world.
At the same time, if you’re located in an urban area, you’ll likely have full access to modern amenities like electricity, toilets, running water, grocery stores, and even malls.
Weather and climates vary considerably over this vast continent. Many countries in Africa can experience extreme heat in their summer months and very cold temperatures at night or during winter months. Be sure to understand the weather conditions for where and when you are completing your internship, and pack accordingly.
Many programs accept interns in cycles, often reflecting school semester terms. Be sure to look into the hiring cycles for internships you are interested in and apply well in advance as interning in Africa is getting popular.
Work and labor laws in Africa
Labor laws are strict across Africa and sometimes require foreign volunteers and interns to obtain special visas. Be sure to research the entry and labor laws for your country far before the start of your internship!
Don’t expect to be paid for your internship in Africa. Most programs will barter your services in exchange for feeding and housing you. Some will even ask for a subsistence contribution from their interns to cover these costs.
As such, many internship opportunities are treated like working-student positions where your hard work is compensated with the knowledge, skills, and experience you will gain from the job.
Interns from North America, Oceania, and Europe will find the cost of living in Africa relatively low; the cost of local food, living, and entertainment will be particularly affordable. Imported goods and luxury items will cost much the same, and sometimes more, as they did at home (meaning, be sure to pack essentials like sunscreen and feminine products instead of spending too much for them while abroad).
Many internship programs are run through UK or US based companies, many of which charge living contributions at similar rates to that of home countries. Tourist activities, which are also often run by British or American companies, will also be charged at a rate similar to what they would be at home.
Cost of living varies from country to country (South Africa, for example, is pretty similar to back home) and even within countries (rural areas are significantly cheaper). So, for specific details regarding the cost of living, Numbeo and Lonely Planet both give good overviews of what you should expect to spend.