Alumni Spotlight: Sangeeta Sharmin

Why did you decide to intern abroad with Connect-123 in Cape Town?

Sangeeta with an elephant

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.

Snowboarding in Cape Town

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:

Sangeeta on an ostrich

  • 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!