Hillary Johns - 2014 Program Participant

Hiking in South Africa

Hillary on one of "Johnny's hiking club" hikes, not for the lighthearted, but it's definitely worth the view

What made you want to do an internship abroad?

I wanted to gain a completely new experience in a different culture to learn about Occupational Therapy in a context that was completely different than what I had known.

Why did you choose to do an Occupational Therapy Internship in Cape Town, South Africa?

Two years ago, I went on a short-term mission trip to Kenya. Carmen, an Occupational Therapist in Kenya, enlightened me with the many Occupational Therapy opportunities in Cape Town, South Africa. I promised myself I would make a sincere effort in traveling to Cape Town to fulfil this.

How did you find your internship with Volunteer Abroad Corps, and what made you choose them over other internship providers?

I knew I wanted to go abroad to Cape Town and do something with Occupational Therapy, whether it was graduate school or an internship. I Googled: “Cape Town Occupational Therapy”, and the next thing I knew I was packing my bags for South Africa for three months.  Volunteer Adventure Corps made the application/interview process very convenient. The testimonies are what sold me though! Reading the past experiences of VACorps participants set my soul on fire. Also, talking with Vanessa on Skype confirmed that this was the program for me.

What were your housing arrangements like?

VACorps arranges your housing based on what you would want. I lived in a house with 11 other roommates, mostly South African locals. There were three full bathrooms, but I also had a sink in my room which was very convenient. It was always noisy, but my living situation felt like a family. We would cook together and explore Observatory together. I enjoyed living with mostly South Africans because I felt I was able to better immerse myself in the culture.  

Moonlight Mass Bike Tour participants in Cape Town, South Africa

Some of the great friends Hillary met through Volunteer Adventure Corps enjoying the Moonlight Mass Bike Tour - a Cape Town must!

You interned at a school for disabled children. What ages did you work with primarily, and what were some of your day-to-day responsibilities?

Learners were anywhere from six to 15-years-old. I worked mostly with the younger learners. I would assist other occupational or physical therapists. I also began independently leading baking or beading groups, which allowed the students to interact in their home cultures.  Weekly, I would attend HippoTherapy or golf with the students. I created a hand therapy program for learners with fine motor disabilities that was both motivating and inexpensive; I also created a pamphlet on Recycling: What is recycling and how they could do their part.

What was the best part of your day while interning in Cape Town?

Once or twice a week, one other Occupational Therapist and I would take six to eight learners to HippoTherapy across town. I would walk next to the horse and make sure the learner was stable. HippoTherapy activates both motor and sensory input, while allowing the patient to enjoy the therapeutic effects of riding a horse.

What was the staff like at the school you interned in?

The ladies (and Dylan) I interned with made my experience at Tembaletu even more incredible. They were always cracking jokes. Nazneen, Leilah, Colleen, Dylan, Melissa, and Wendy were all very welcoming and gave me independence as an Occupational Therapist, while being there to answer any question I may have had.

What was the most difficult challenge you faced abroad?

My purse was stolen, which contained most of my financial support, although I still had a month left in Cape Town. Luckily, I had met some pretty amazing people during my stay who helped me out. I learned to manage my money better; I also learned that Coco Cha Chi’s had a delicious egg/hummus toast dish that only cost 12 rand.

Volunteer with students at Tembaletu LSEN School in South Africa

Hillary and some of the younger learners in her beading group at Tembaletu LSEN School

What advice would give someone about to intern in Cape Town?

Fly by the seat of your pants! Be open-minded and take things with a grain of salt. Also, take a journal and document the amazing things you see and learn about yourself.

Would you go back to Cape Town if you had the chance?

DEFINITELY! It is the most amazing place; sheer beauty with down-to-earth people who also like to adventure.

How has your experience interning abroad impacted your future career in Occupational Therapy (OT) now that you’re back home?

This experience allowed me to work independently as an OT, leading groups of students in vocational tasks that helped prepare them for their reality. This experienced also allowed me to look bold amongst my peers as I applied for graduate school. Since coming home, I have been accepted into an Occupational Therapy graduate program. I hope to one day work internationally as an Occupational Therapist, and I would be honored to come back to Cape Town to do so.

Would you recommend your Occupational Therapy internship program to others?

Yes. Tembelatu LSEN was an amazing school, both the learners and the teachers were very inviting and kind. I was able to experience the many fields of Occupational Therapy, from a habilitative focus, to HippoTherapy, to creating a hand therapy program for students with fine motor disabilities.

Drinking a Savannah in the mountains of South Africa

Hillary’s friend captured this moment of her sipping a Savannah enjoying a sunset on the Wild Coast trip VACorps put on.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

I really can’t think of anything. Perhaps, I recommend bringing a towel.

You loved the Friday “VACtivities”, the affectionate term given to the excursions that VAC arranges for its participants. Why did you like these so much, and which was your favorite?

I enjoyed the VACtivities for many reasons. During my time in Cape Town, I did much independent exploring, but the weekly VACtivities allowed me to connect with the other VACorps participants even more. These activities also varied each week, whether it was wine tasting, a beautiful sunset hike, or surfing. During my first VACtivity we hiked and crawled through some caves that lead to a breathtaking view. One of my favorite VACtivities was wine tasting, followed by a Fourth of July celebration.

In addition, VACorps provides the opportunities to go on weekend trips or even a week or two week adventure road trips that are a MUST. For example, I went on the Wild Coast trip through VACorps. Many of the most amazing experiences I had came from that trip. Feel free to watch the video.

What’s your next adventure? Do you hope to keep traveling?

I am working on my next adventure. I want to come back to Cape Town soon, but I also want to explore a different corner of the world. I hope to always be traveling; it teaches you different perspectives.