When and where did you intern abroad? What was your position?
I was an intern from March 2011 to August 2011 at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi. My internship was working as a project officer in the nursing services department, so I had the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of people, which was a great exposure to the international workplace. I learned from physicians, nurses, pharmacists and even patients.
What made you want to intern abroad?
As someone who loves to learn new languages, immerse myself in different cultures and engage in unique travel experiences, I had a desire to go out and explore more of the world around me. After traveling to Brazil with Global Youth Volunteer Network (GYVN) in the summer after my first year of undergraduate studies, I decided that I wanted to complete at least one of my work terms abroad.
How did you conduct your search? What made you select your program/company?
I was part of the co-op program at the University of Waterloo. As a result, we had access to a database of jobs and internships, one of which was a posting by Aga Khan University. I’ve always especially wanted to work in a developing country, so I decided to apply for the posting.
How did you deal with the cultural divide during your internship?
People were amazing and warm, and because of that I was able to learn a lot more about the local culture than I might have otherwise. I had amazing supervisors and co-workers who patiently introduced me to the culture in Kenya while I was doing my internship there. I also made local friends, some of whom taught me to cook traditional dishes. There were certain foods that I had in Nairobi that I never had in Canada – for instance I learned to make chapatis, githeri, mukimo, pulao, sukuma wiki and ugali from my friends and co-workers. My favorite dish is pulao rice.
Whether I was at work, volunteering, or just walking in the markets, locals would take the time to teach me a few words in Kiswalhili. I am so grateful and blessed to have encountered such phenomenal people full of kindness and care while I was in Kenya.
What was the most important thing you learned about communicating in a foreign culture?
In the workplace, everyone spoke in English, but my supervisors and co-workers taught me a few words in the local language, and when I would go out on weekends to the market, I would try to apply what I’d learned. My sentence structure and pronunciation might not have been perfect, but the locals were really helpful, and everything becomes easier with practice!
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I definitely want to spend some more time exploring different parts of the world because there is still so much to learn and experience. In the future, I hope to be able to find a career that would enable me to make a positive impact especially in impoverished areas of the world.
As is the case with many people, Elisabeth's first experience abroad has ignited an intense curiosity about the world, and a desire to work internationally assisting those in need. If you are interested in starting out on a career in international development, try and spend as much time as possible overseas before graduation. If you choose to pursue a master’s after your undergrad degree, consider extending your term of study to incorporate an internship or research project abroad. The more experience you have working in developing nations or with international development non-profits, the more hirable you’ll be after graduation. The links below will be useful to anyone setting out on a career in international development.
- Whatever your major, consider reading the section NGOs & International Development. An essential factor in becoming successful in this field is to develop managerial skills in addition to your specialized skills.
- You might also want to check out two publications: Volunteer for Development and “Working in Development” (not yet listed in our guide), both by The World Service Enquiry (UK), and both listed in International Development Career Resources.