International Internships – Pack your enthusiasm but leave your expectations at home: My experience with a Botswana human rights NGO

Julia Wolfe (C’12)

This past summer I spent two months in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana,  interning at a human rights non-profit through Penn’s International Internship Program (which provided funding and housing there). Before my departure I had idealistic visions of doing work that would positively affect people’s lives and be extremely helpful to the organization. However, I think that amidst my excitement I didn’t anticipate all the personal challenges that an internship can present, especially one in a developing country.

When I was there the organization was in dire need of funding and very short of staff. I was told this was a slow period for them, so I was not given as much work as I’d expected to have. What they did give me to do (mainly revising reports) was fascinating because I had no previous knowledge of Botswana or the southern African region, or of its politics, history and current human rights issues. The organization also hosted a week of events about the conflict in Zimbabwe, which required significant planning and then reporting about it afterward. Besides the light workload, other challenges I faced included the poor quality of communication among employees and the very basic technology and lack of resources in the office.

Although the internship did not live up to my lofty expectations, it was a fantastic learning experience. It gave me practice in taking my own initiative with projects and dealing with co-workers whose communication was sometimes quite frustrating–problems I know I’ll encounter again in my working life. I was told by one of the Penn-in-Botswana directors that my experience there was typical of office life in Botswana, so I’m glad I had an “authentic” experience. (And of course our weekend trips to go on safaris made my time there even better!) If you’re thinking of interning abroad in a place very different from the U.S., I would advise that it’s great to have high goals, but also be realistic about the challenges you will probably face. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t work out as you’d hoped, and know that whatever kind of experience you have will be worthwhile and teach you a lot–you will probably learn more than you’d ever anticipated!

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.