Greetings from Cape Town! Life has continued moving at a steady beat in the Mother City, however my internship abroad is approaching the home stretch. In a mere seventeen days, I’ll be back on U.S. soil and celebrating the return with loved ones.
My internship with the Treatment Action Campaign, a non-profit that advocates for users of the public healthcare system in South Africa, continues to go well. Being able to split my time between the city center and Khayelitsha (an informal settlement/township) has allowed for a very rounded experience. In the township, I am able to assist with writing donation letters for provincial health campaigns and with grant applications that would fund large-scale projects, like the Public Transport Voice which “advocates for quality and equality in the South African public transport sector.” Co-workers in the township have given mini-tours and treated me to local specialties like Umgqusho (samp and beans).
In the city center, I have primarily worked on the Fix the Patent Laws campaign, which is jointly run by the Treatment Action Campaign and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Although it is not the type of work I expected to be doing, being able to assist with research into medicine accessibility in South Africa has been fascinating (as well as intensely frustrating). My interest in public health is continually reaffirmed and I have been shown several avenues of potential careers in the field. Later this week, I have the opportunity to travel with TAC/MSF to Johannesburg for a workshop they are putting on. At this workshop, partner non-profits will receive training on what patent challenges exist in South Africa and media strategies to continue advocating for an improved system.
Outside of my internship, I have undertaken several adventures in and around the city new friends. Now that my trip abroad is nearly complete, I am realizing how glad I am for the “global community” that has built up around me. My student housing allowed me to meet locals from different parts of South Africa, students from Zimbabwe, Canada, Sweden, China, Austria, and Germany. The core group of friends hail from Germany and their presence has added so much color to this experience. Often times it feels like I am experiencing South African and German culture simultaneously! There are daily moments where I do not get the joke or an idea is lost in translation. However, I have honed the skill of maintaining a light heart and seeking a different way to communicate. As someone who works in academic support for international students at my home university, the experience of interning abroad has reinforced the respect and admiration I have for those who leave their culture to pursue studying abroad—it is no easy feat! Surrounding myself with global friends is something I am so grateful to have done, and would highly recommend it to fellow U.S. students studying/interning abroad. (Another bonus? Now there are friends to visit all across the world in the years to come!)
Another recent reflection was influenced by a quote from the French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus:
“What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country. We are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits, this is why we should not say that we travel for pleasure. I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing. Travel, which is like a greater and a graver science, brings us back to ourselves.”
This idea hits home so much of what I have experienced while living in South Africa. Looking at big picture, ten weeks is not a long amount of time at all. But somehow, in that limited span of time, I have experienced more growth and change than in three years at university. The fear I have encountered has stretched past concerns over personal safety or comfort, instead it has required me to be more attune to the world outside Oregon, and to figure out what my place in that world is. I agree with Camus, travel does brings us back to ourselves, but the price of that is a tested spirit.
Now that I have paid the price and seen the reward, I am ready to start planning the next trip!
For more stories about Cape Town, visit: http://www.capesquared.wordpress.com