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.