My summer internship in Cape Town: A truly life-changing experience abroad

By Alex Schramkowski

I believe internships are a gateway to the future for students getting ready to transition from college to the workplace. Getting real, hands-on work experience can prove life-changing. For me, I got a real chance to have my perspectives changed, skillsets diversified, and beliefs tested outside the classroom.

internship in Cape Town
Alex at the Rhodes Memorial overlooking Athlone and the suburbs of Cape Town and UCT (University of Cape Town).
Why did I choose a summer internship abroad?

Making sure I got the experience and exposure of going abroad as an undergraduate at Rhodes College was imperative. Thanks to the generous programs and benefits provided by both my school and Connect-123, I was able to find a way to combine travel with experiential work and service learning in the form of an internship abroad!

Interning abroad for the entire summer proved to be the best route for me. Not only did I have the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the culture, history, and work I was doing in Cape Town, but I didn’t feel the pressure of having a class load to deal with on top of my experience.

I believe that interning abroad over the summer leads to a far more immersive experience than interning during the academic year.

Why did I choose to do an internship in Cape Town?

Right from the start, I was set on getting out of the country and experiencing something new and unknown. I just didn’t know where that would be. It took a lot of consideration and conversations with my professors, my friends, and Connect-123 to narrow down my options, but Cape Town always stuck out in my mind. I think it’s substantially easier for an American to travel to London or Paris, for example, than to travel to Cape Town. You get used to Cape Town, don’t get me wrong – but the feeling, the vibe, and the essence of being in Africa is second to none. For me, it checked all the boxes.

Rhodes College internship in Cape Town internship
Alex at Cape Point Nature Reserve.
Why did I choose Connect-123?

At every step of my journey, Connect-123 catered to my needs and answered my questions so much better than any other internship provider that I had considered.

Did my internship give me insight into the type of career I want to pursue?

Working at a heritage-based organization certainly helped me understand why heritage is so important and helped me examine heritage issues through a different lens. What do policymakers and legal analysts have to consider when writing legislation and agreements that affect social issues? Who are all the stakeholders? Answering questions like these certainly provides context to my future career plans.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll end up in heritage work in the US, but I still very much plan to pursue a career in the legal and policy spheres, which was a large part of my internship. I thoroughly enjoyed working in government, taking part in legal discussions, analyzing stakeholder impacts of decisions and policy changes, all the while learning about very personal, shared parts of the human experience.

What did I learn?

In the work environment, I learned how to truly advocate for myself. It took being pushed almost entirely outside my comfort zone to find my real comfort zone, which still strikes me as a novel concept.

internship in Cape Town
Me at Clifton 3rd watching an epic Cape Town sunset!

More personally, I would say that I found myself by losing myself. I brought with me to South Africa a version of reality which I accepted and appreciated, which I still appreciate today. That version of reality encompassed both my personal goals and aspirations as well as how I envisioned the world around me. By the time I left, I realized that a lot of those initial thoughts, feelings, and conceptions about myself and the world around me had been tweaked.

What will I miss the most about Cape Town?

Sometimes, the smallest things and shortest parts of days are what stick out to me the most – my walk to work with other Connectors, stopping by KFC on the way home.

Other times I recall a series of sunset adventures to four small beaches collectively referred to as Clifton. If we were lucky and arrived at one of the beaches right before 6pm, with a blanket and friends, we would watch the sunset. Seeing the orange blaze strike the waves, all while standing on crisp, chilled sand – that’s what I remember the most.

Rhodes College Fellow, internship in Cape Town
Alex traveled to Johannesburg with his host organization.
Have opportunities opened up for me as a result of my internship abroad?

Certainly! I’ve been given many opportunities to share my experiences and stories which, in turn, helps me create new connections. I stay in touch with many of my colleagues and friends I made through the program. Everyone I met who was on LinkedIn was a connection of mine before I left Cape Town – not because I anticipate leveraging the experience directly with every single contact I made, but because having a personal and professional network of colleagues is important to me.

Was it worth it?

There’s such a stark difference between reading something in the pages of a book versus experiencing something in real life. It’s the difference between reading about wildlife versus actually going and seeing lions and elephants twenty feet away from your car. It’s the difference between saying to yourself as a freshman in your dorm room, “man it would be so cool to go abroad,” versus actually doing it. The experiential reality of leaving your home and traveling somewhere unexpected, and then loving every moment of it – that reality still sticks with me months after having landed in Nashville.

Alex Schramkowski

Alex spent the summer of 2018 in Cape Town interning at an agency involved in heritage preservation work within South Africa. Alex intends to graduate from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN with a double major in International Studies and Political Science, with the expectation of going onto a career in law. Interning abroad gave Alex the opportunity to put his aspirations to the test by taking opportunities to learn about South African culture through government and legal work. He is very excited to share both the work experiences and the cultural aspects of his time in South Africa with anyone considering interning abroad.


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