It’s hard to think of a country more diverse than South Africa – in every sense of the word. With 11 official languages, this multiethnic society is a unique blend of African cultures with European and Asian influences. The range of this cultural diversity can be seen walking the bustling streets of Johannesburg, experiencing traditions first hand in a tribal village, or getting up close and personal with the magnificent wildlife of Kruger National Park. Internships in South Africa for international interns are just as varied and plentiful. South Africa – the Rainbow Nation – truly does have something for everyone!
Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa has a distinctly African buzz. Since it’s the financial capital of the country, interns in “Jozi” will find that internship opportunities abound in the finance, business, and entertainment sectors.
Cape Town is a more laid back city, with a cosmopolitan vibe. One of the world’s most beautiful cities, the nation’s “Mother City” is known for having an entrepreneurial spirit, so many internships allow interns to gain firsthand experience with start-up or social enterprise companies. Cape Town was named the World Design Capital for 2014, so design internship opportunities are plentiful as well. Additionally, interns interested in tourism or the wine industry will find a natural fit in Cape Town.
Durban is famous for its uninterrupted white sand beaches and warm Indian Ocean water, making it an especially great choice for interns interested in tourism.
But the beauty of South Africa is not confined to its cities! South Africa is one of the top megadiverse countries in the world and nature lovers will find a vast network of diverse national parks. The country boasts two oceans, numerous coastal reserves, and over 20 national parks, and there are ample internships in South Africa available in both marine and wildlife conservation.
Internships in South Africa
Internship opportunities in South Africa are as diverse as the Rainbow Nation itself. Business, marketing, and finance internships can experience the exciting world of entrepreneurship in a developing market. While Johannesburg is the country’s financial capital, there are many young and creative enterprises popping up all over Cape Town. The emerging field of social entrepreneurship is becoming quite popular as well, so there are many internship programs offered by South African organizations that are both for-profit and nonprofit, using specific business principles to tackle important social issues.
Regarding healthcare internships, given the high incidence of infectious diseases, both pre-med and medical school students can often see conditions in South Africa not common in their home countries, including HIV/AIDS, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis as well as more common diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Interns interested in healthcare can experience internships in South Africa that are geared towards exceptional learning, alongside some of the finest medical professionals in the world.
Opportunities to work on human rights or public policy campaigns are especially poignant in the land where Nelson Mandela famously fought for social justice. Despite years of progress, massive inequalities continue to be seen all around the country – in terms of basic human rights, including literacy and education, healthcare, and safety.
Socially minded interns can make important contributions to organizations looking to redress these imbalances, especially through internships in education, social work, and youth development. While South Africans celebrate their diversity, their multiculturalism, and their history of immigration, there is still much work to be done in terms of economic and social inclusion.
Time Requirements. Many internships in South Africa have two month minimum requirements, in order to make sure interns have enough time to get well acquainted with their project and have time to really make an impact. However, other organizations that are more community service based might have internship opportunities in South Africa available for shorter times.
Salary & Costs
As with many international destinations, most internships in South Africa are unpaid. To ensure that you receive a return on your time investment, it’s therefore important to choose your internship program carefully and fully understand the placement you are committing to prior to departure. Most participants who intern in South Africa have found that the non-financial rewards, in terms of career-related experience and personal growth, can be substantial.
The South African Rand is volatile and currency fluctuations can make a big impact on trip costs. As of 2014, South Africa was a relatively inexpensive destination compared to Europe and North America. While flights to South Africa can be more expensive than to other destinations, on-the-ground costs, such as housing, food, and local transport, are relatively inexpensive..
Accommodations & Visas
Housing is available in most locations in apartments, dormitories, and homestays. Given safety concerns, it’s very important to check the neighborhood and building security when making housing arrangements for your internship in South Africa. It might be worth budgeting slightly more to ensure that housing is safe and secure.
According to local visa advisors, all visitors to South Africa for activities not related to tourism require a visa, for any trip duration. The most common types of visas available to individuals interning in South Africa are the volunteer visa and the exchange permit. That being said, interpretation of visa regulations varies from consulate to consulate and it’s therefore best to contact a South African consulate directly for the latest information. Depending on the consulate, lead times are typically range from 10 to 20 days.
Benefits & Challenges
- Social and Environmental Change in the Home of Nelson Mandela. Interning abroad in South Africa will allow interns to experience more than just South Africa’s natural beauty and local people, it will allow interns to see first-hand creative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, including poverty, provision of health care to disadvantaged populations, and how best to encourage entrepreneurship in an emerging market and history of strong social dilemmas.
- English, but Not Really. Challenges include adjusting to a different pace and accepting that while English is widely spoken, it’s necessary to learn the nuances and slang of the locals (for example, the phrase now now doesn’t actually mean now). Build your global work experience and get to know this wonderfully unique country!
- Camera … ACTION. South Africa is not a “sit on the sidelines” kind of country. Interning in South Africa will require interns to really learn how to get things done in a foreign culture and may leave interns amazed at the rate of change around them.