Whether for honest interest, consuming passion, or simple resumé building, we’ve heard it all before: internships for students. Like the many before me, this summer I, too, jumped at the prospect of learning new skills and having something besides my marks to show employers. From that simple wish I somehow ended up in South Africa, living one of my greatest experiences thus far.
Upon my arrival, a best friend picked me up from the airport and drove me into downtown. Past beating dance clubs, vibey bars, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, stood the six story building in which I was to spend the next several months. See, I did not just volunteer in Africa; rather, I interned at the most upbeat hostel in Cape Town.
Although I spent the majority of my time learning the ins and outs of managing reception (and of course squandering most of my nights and money at the rooftop bar), the experience was beyond anything I had signed up for. When I accepted the internship back in the bustle of May exams, I figured returning to Cape Town would be a blast, seeing old friends would be nice, and working reception in exchange for food would get me through a few months without having to beg my parents for cash. In retrospect, I could not have underestimated my time in Cape Town more.
I am yet another American studying International Relations, and whenever anyone asked how this reception internship would add to my degree, I simply shrugged. I wasn’t sure. I merely reveled in the idea of it, the thrill of flying off and seeing what happened.
Looking back, though, I know with absolute certainty it will add to my degree. While International Relations is very much about political ideology, it is a lesson in itself when you meet people from around the world and hear their varied opinions. It adds a depth to politics you cannot learn in a classroom, and opens up as many opinions as there are stars in the heavens.
In just under four months interning, I directed people around Cape Town from dozens of countries, and as I grew confident in reception, many relationships bloomed. The amount of times I found myself discussing the up-coming election with a fellow American, Scottish independence with British travelers, the fate of the Euro with German friends, and the rise of China throughout Africa with Zimbabwean colleagues astounds me.
In the end, I met more intriguing people than I could have imagined, strengthened my existing friendships in Cape Town beyond all expectations, and left a city I had thought was “just fun” with a feeling that it would one day be home. Did I provide myself with a diamond for my CV? Perhaps not; yet, at the end of the day, whether an employer will recognize it for what it means to me need not matter. I am confident in the fact that the people I met, the discussions I shared, and the skills I developed have changed me. Any internship that can make me feel all that is a winner.