Reflecting on a Summer Abroad

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Brendan Taliaferro, COL ’19

I began to plan how I wanted to spend my summer after sophomore year with one thing in mind: to push myself further out of my comfort zone than I ever had before. I had spent the summer following my freshman year as a teacher for a non-profit in California, an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience that shaped me enormously as an individual. From that internship I learned that the best way to learn about the world and about myself is to immerse myself in completely foreign experiences. With this in mind, I set out to find opportunities that would allow me to face new challenges, meet new people, and discover new parts of myself and the world. My coursework in international relations and English first semester of sophomore year aroused in me a curiosity for international development work, and I set out to find a way to explore the field over the summer. I applied for over a dozen development-oriented organizations in New York and Washington D.C., but when I discovered the opportunities that the International Internship Program offered, I knew I had found exactly what I was looking for.

IIP offered a chance for me to fulfill both of my criteria for an ideal summer: to immerse myself in a completely different world than my own, and to explore the field of international development. After doing fairly extensive research on the opportunities IIP presented, I decided to apply to ILC Africa, a development consulting firm based in Accra, Ghana. The organization was founded by two Penn grads. I was accepted and made preparations to fly to Ghana, where the firm is located. I jumped headfirst into work: ILC was working on the biggest contract they had ever received, so they put me to work immediately. The company was performing data collection on a literacy initiative funded and implemented in Ghana two years ago by USAID. USAID hired a development evaluation organization called Social Impact to determine how effective their initiative has been, but because Social Impact is based in Washington D.C., they hired ILC to do the on-the-ground data collection, which meant visiting 500+ schools around the country testing children, interviewing teachers, and observing classrooms. I was largely responsible for communications and data checking, and it was fast-paced and extremely demanding, but I learned a lot about the details and specifics data collection and development work.

Despite the enormous amount of work it took to complete a data collection project, I also got free time to explore Ghana. I lived and worked in Accra, which is the capital of the country and a considerable metropolitan area, so I saw a lot of the city. The other interns and I ate at different restaurants every weekend, experimenting with both local and international cuisine. Turns out there is some great Indian food in Ghana! We saw the botanical gardens, explored some of the largest markets I have ever seen, hung out at the beach, went out clubbing, and visited the museums the city offered. We took a very bumpy tro-tro ride (Ghana’s public transportation) three hours to Cape Coast, a city that used to be a prominent slave trading post for the Portugese and the British. We visited the slave castle in the city, which is the largest in Ghana–the Obamas actually toured it in 2011. It was a fascinating and deeply saddening experience to see the spaces in which Africans were detained and abused before being shipped to the Americas, and the stories and statistics our guide shared with us were truly horrifying. We proceeded from there to Kakum National Park, which is an unbelievably gorgeous rain forest an hour from Cape Coast. We did a canopy walk that rests 150+ feet over the floor of the forest, and it was an incredible and breathtaking experience. We even got to see a thunderstorm in a rainforest! It was epic, especially because we were safely under cover and stayed dry.

This internship helped me change and grow in ways I thought not possible, and I am extremely grateful for that. Through IIP I was able to learn so much about myself and the world and simultaneously to unlearn a lot of the assumptions and biases I had about the world outside of the one I have always known. I gained some really valuable work and life experience, and I know that this opportunity has truly changed the path of my future.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.