Leah Kaylor - 2014 Program Participant

View of Cape Town coast.
View of Cape Town coast.

How did you first discover Volunteer Adventure Corps?

I actually found VACorps because an ad came up on my Facebook newsfeed. I honestly thought it was way too good to be true and almost passed it up thinking it was some type of Internet scam. But my curiosity got the better of me (I’m glad it did) and I clicked on the link. I was immediately taken to a webpage showing me all the amazing internships and activities VACorps had to offer. I was hooked! I scoured the entire website reading everything about the company. Soon after, I found myself emailing VACorps to start finding my dream internship.

Why did you choose to intern abroad with Volunteer Adventure Corps instead of other organizations offering opportunities in Cape Town?

Study abroad programs for graduate students are few and far between and almost impossible to set up with all the additional requirements and documentation needed. I was fearful that I would not be able to find a program offering international internships for graduate students. Luckily, the VACorps team was more than accommodating when finding me the perfect internship and did not mind all the additional requirements my graduate program needed. Checking out all of the testimonials from previous interns was a huge selling point for me. I couldn’t wait to see what type of placement site VACorps would find for me.

Why did you choose Cape Town for your international internship in psychology?

I have a passion for exploring the world and all its many wonders. I am a “travelaholic.” I have studied abroad twice during my undergraduate career (Semester at Sea & CIEE - University of Wollongong, Australia). I always try to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me. I wanted to choose a location to complete my internship that I probably would never get another chance to spend an entire three months in, and Cape Town was the place to do just that. I started to research South Africa and soon had my heart set on making it a priority to get to Cape Town.

What were your housing arrangements like?

I had several different options for my housing arrangements. I chose to live on the main road located near some shops, restaurants, and bars. It was very close walking distance to all the major attractions and transportation in town. I lived in a house of 17 people and it was always a fun time. I made tons of friends and was invited to take part in a lot of activities.

You interned at a psychiatric clinic and said your were treated as one of the staff. What were some of your day-to-day responsibilities during your Counseling and Psychology Internship?

My internship placement site could not have been more perfect! From the very beginning, I was treated as a staff member by both my superiors and the patients. It was refreshing not to feel like the lowly intern just filing paperwork. I was involved in every therapeutic activity going on in the clinic, such as educational lectures, intake sessions, various types of therapy, and staff meetings. In the first few weeks, I observed quite a bit to get my feet wet and understand the workings of the clinic. Soon after, I was co-facilitating group, individual, and family therapy alongside my supervisor and eventually I was even running group therapy sessions alone.

Every day we would see new patients and run different kinds of therapy sessions. It was a privilege to be a part of it all. I had a very well-rounded internship by being able to develop counseling skills in all the various activities I was a part of. My internship was unique in that I was highly encouraged to become involved in the therapy sessions. My supervisor would routinely ask for my opinion and allow me to collaborate with him on diagnosing patients.

What was the best part of your internship abroad?

This is a hard question. Besides being involved in the various therapeutic activities, the best part of my internship was interacting with the patients. During their 21-day stay at the inpatient clinic, I was able to watch the patients grow and change. It was rewarding to see the change happen so quickly in some patients. Occasionally, after a therapy session a patient would come up to me and say they enjoyed the session or took something away from our session, which was extremely gratifying.

Interning at a psychiatric clinic abroad you worked closely with patients that suffered from mental illness or substance abuse. What was the most difficult part?

This internship was truly like no other. I wanted to work with patients with severe mental illnesses and that is exactly what VACorps found for me. I learned so much about mental illnesses and the different ways a mental disorder may present in other cultures. I also learned a lot about the interplay between mental disorders and substance abuse. The most difficult situation I was faced with was hearing the traumatic life stories of some of the patients. After every session, the staff would have debriefing sessions which really helped.

What advice would you give someone interested in interning in Cape Town?

GO TO CAPE TOWN! VACorps is amazing; they will take great care of you. The city is incredible and has so much to offer. The natural beauty of South Africa will make you never want to go home. The incredible friendships and professional connections you will make are invaluable. Make the most of your time there! Do and see as much as possible, it is a wonderful and culturally rich location that is like no other. If you are interested in interning with VACorps and have specific interests (like mine) then contact them, they are more than willing to accommodate and are capable of finding a placement site to fit your special interests.

What was it like to work alongside a prominent psychologist during your internship?

My direct supervisor was amazing; I learned so much working under him. I also worked very closely with the entire staff. They were incredible, always taking the time to answer my questions and teach me valuable lessons in the realm of psychology and counseling. The staff cared for me like one of their own by always debriefing with me after tough sessions and having supervision meetings to review my progress. Having a supervisor that you can talk to and get along with is extremely important. I took away so much from my experience mainly because of my supervisor; he literally made each moment a teaching experience.

What is one specific skill you gained from your internship abroad experience?

I gained cultural competency through my internship. As a psychology master’s student, cultural competency is a highly sought after skill in clinicians. I figured that immersing myself in a completely foreign culture for a few months would allow me to begin to develop this skill. At the clinic, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the interplay between culture, race, and ethnicity and its impact on symptom presentation and treatment.

Would you recommend your Counseling and Psychology Internship with VACorps to others?

Absolutely! I could not have asked for a more rewarding and educational internship. My placement site was everything I had dreamed of and more. Not only did I develop myself professionally, I grew immensely as a person by challenging myself to go beyond my comfort zone. Interning in South Africa was by far the most influential part of my graduate education and an important element in my decision to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.

It sounds like you worked and played hard! Your list of adventure activities seems like you literally did EVERYTHING available from diving with Great White Sharks, to caving, to sandboarding down dunes, to paragliding, and more. What are some adventure activities that people visiting Cape Town should try out?

I literally did more activities than I can even remember, and every single activity was incredible. Since it was so unique to South Africa, I would recommend going shark cage diving with great whites. It was a complete adrenaline rush! Otherwise all the activities in Cape Town are fantastic, such as climbing Table Mountain, sandboarding, and taking a road trip on the Garden Route. I was busy every single weekend with new and exciting activities. You will surely never run out of fun things to do in the Mother City.

What’s next for you? Any exciting plans in your future?

I am currently applying to PhD programs in clinical psychology, all over the United States. I think completing my internship in South Africa will really set me apart from the other applicants. I am planning another big trip for summer 2015 - I will be leading a group of high school students to either South or Central America to do volunteer work with children in orphanages and to lend a hand in an endangered animal sanctuary.