What position do you hold at VA Corps? What has been your career path so far?
Oliver: My current title at VACorps is Director of Applications and Outreach. In this role, I review all program applications and make a final decision regarding an applicant’s program candidacy.
I also serve as the primary liaison for our various organizational partnerships. I cofounded VACorps in 2006 and have spent my entire professional career working in the field of international education!
Did YOU intern abroad?! If so, what did you learn from the experience?
Oliver: In 2004, I participated in a journalism internship in Ghana through the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. The legendary professor, Leslie Steeves, designed an incredible program that allowed students to work within the Ghanaian media.
My countless adventures in Ghana made me appreciate the overwhelming value of an international internship. When you intern in a foreign country, learning is occurring on so many different levels and the knowledge you acquire at your internship site only constitutes a small portion of the personal growth you will experience while abroad.
I became a much more flexible, independent and creative thinker as a result of my internship experience in Ghana. More importantly, I became a citizen of the world.
What does the future hold for VA Corps - any exciting new programs to share?
Oliver: As our program continues to grow, we will be launching speciality programs that offer an additional layer of supervision and support. In 2014, we launched a pilot public health program called “Imphilo Phambili” (which means “health first” in the Xhosa language) that was a resounding success and will be a feature of our program for years to come.
Participants of Imphilo Phambili were mentored by a public health professional from the States who facilitated weekly discussion sessions and coordinated unique public health projects. We have plans to launch similar programs in the fields of marine conservation, film production and entrepreneurship.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful internship program?
Oliver: An internship program’s staff must be on standby to help interns work through unanticipated challenges that routinely surface during an internship experience. We owe the success of our program to the fact that our team of 10+ talented professionals provide a high level of support in a way that is not overbearing, given that most interns appreciate the opportunity to be independent.
Even the most intelligent, independent and well-traveled participants stumble at times and require help managing situations that are completely beyond their control (e.g., the site cancels an internship 1 day prior to arrival in South Africa— it happens more often than you would think).
We have created an environment whereby participants are never embarrassed to reach out to our team for help and will receive immediate support, ensuring that their stay in South Africa will be a positive and productive one!
What about the future of the industry? How do you think intern abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
Oliver: I predict that international internship participation levels will start to rival study abroad program numbers and eventually eclipse them. With each passing year, more and more universities are changing their policies to accredit international internships and this will really improve enrollment because students can apply their financial aid towards the experience.