What it’s like being an Intern in South Africa
Authored by Kylie Bern, CIEE Global Intern
Honestly, I was scared going into my internship in Cape Town. Boarding the plane, I had so many questions running through my head: what if my boss doesn’t like me? What if I don’t click well with the other interns or group leaders? The minute I stepped off the plane, all those fears went away. I was greeted by Caleb, a smiling face that made me want to crumple up all doubts I had and throw them away. The other interns were great too; we all met that night over coffee and delicious South African food. I have always been more of an introvert, and yet the others chatted me up, handed me koeksisters (which are delicious and taste like doughnuts but even better) and I immediately knew these would be my close friends for the next two months.
You know in school when someone asks “Oh, did you get Professor A or B for class?” And Professor A is always the really nice and sweet one that everyone wants while Professor B is kind of mean and just so-so at teaching? Well, Jean Alfeld serves as Professor A. Not only is she kindhearted and empathetic, she is also an amazing teacher and superb role model. In one short month, I have learned to create a Linkden profile that will impress future employers as well as how to make an elevator pitch. All of the skills she has taught me are things I believe to be vital when entering the business world and are lessons I could never have learned if not for coming here.
Anyway, let’s get into my internship. I am a Literature student with a love for reading and absolutely no idea what I want to do post-graduation. All my life I have absolutely dreaded the question: what do you want to be when you grow up? I usually answer this with a slightly agitated shrug or blurt out that I’m going to be an English teacher. But truthfully, I never wanted to be a teacher. The moment Jean suggested I intern at Modjaji Books, a woman-run publishing company that publishes South African women writers, my heart fluttered. Actually, that’s an understatement. I believe I ran around the house in my pajamas screaming, “I’m gonna be a publisher!!!” I had answered the question that I had dreaded all my life without even realizing it.
Yes, I had high hopes for my internship. And yet being here and working for Modjaji has exceeded all expectations. One of my first nights in Cape Town, my boss Colleen Higgs (who is an angel/princess/knight in shining armor/one strong independent woman in my eyes) invited me to a book launch. I had not yet met Colleen in person and once again felt the same doubts I had felt on the plane start to creep in. I ran through the rain into a warmly lit bookshop, Exclusive Books, and shivered (it’s cold here so don’t go out in the rain wearing a sundress like I decided to do for whatever reason) as I looked for Colleen. A bright set of eyes met mine followed by a friendly smile and I once again felt my doubts fly out the door. Colleen greeted me with a glass of wine, a vegan fried ball of some kind of vegetable I couldn't make out, and a chair across from hers. We chatted, and as she introduced me to her daughter and friends, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had received the official invitation to join a sort of family. The type of family that eats, drinks and listens to poetry readings together. It was only my second night in Cape Town and I already felt at home.
Since that night, I have accomplished more work than I ever thought possible. And the best part is, it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it so much. I have proofread novels, which proved more difficult than expected since they use UK English here (ex: color is spelled colour), I have written newsletters and blurbs, posted new books to Modjaji’s website and composed author profiles.
I always thought that interns were the “little guys” - the ones who fetch lattes while their bosses attend important meetings and make phone calls. This internship, thankfully, is nothing like that. At Modjaji, I feel as though I am a part of something. I feel as though my time is of value and my words are heard. And I feel this way outside of work too. CIEE has been nothing but a blessing for me: I am in Africa (!!!), have made friends and connections that I hope to keep for life, and finally have an idea of what I want to do post-graduation.