“One of the aspects of my internship I value the most is that it trained my self-reliance and gave me a chance to overcome issues myself. Every setback was a valuable life experience”
When most think of a nonprofit internship abroad the things that come to mind are the organization you’ll work with, the cause you’ll contribute to, or the country you’ll get to explore. One aspect that is easily overlooked is the incredible opportunity for personal growth!
For some, a Roots internship is their first time traveling alone or their first full-time job. Even if it’s not your first experience of these things it will undoubtedly be an entirely unique one. You’ll be introduced to new ways of life, take part in meaningful work, and overcome real challenges. In addition to the professional development, skill-building, and fun of it all, these experiences will cast your life in a new light and reveal strengths you didn’t know you had.
Recently, we had an intern for whom the opportunity for personal growth wasn’t overlooked but in fact a driving factor for their internship. In this blog, we’ll share their experience to give you an idea of just how significant a nonprofit internship abroad can be for you personally as well as professionally.
The Intern – India Robinson
India Robinson is a driven young student of Global Sustainable Development at Warwick University in the UK. Her career ambitions lie in environmental work, specifically with nonprofits and NGOs. So, in the interim between her first and second year of studying, she decided to take on our NGO Management Internship in Zambia.
In many ways, India was well-prepared for her internship. Having grown up in the Czech Republic, studied in the UK, and traveled extensively, she was no stranger to integrating with foreign cultures. She also had experience in nonprofit work. In her teens, she had volunteered as a fundraiser for numerous conservational efforts and had actually completed one of our remote internships before starting university.
India’s NGO Management Internship in Zambia
Every internship we arrange is unique in its own right. However, there was a setback during India’s internship that made hers exceptional. Due to a complication with connecting flights, India was unable to bring her check-in luggage with her to Zambia. This meant she set off with only the clothes she was wearing and a small backpack containing the absolute essentials. At this point, many would simply turn back and cancel the internship. India persevered.
We keep in contact with all of our interns, especially when things don’t go to plan. Our first response was to do all we could to resolve the issue. Once we’d heard of the resilience she had shown though, India’s internship seemed to exemplify an important part of what Roots is about.
Fortunately, we were able to sit down with India so we asked her some questions about the experience.
What Motivated You To Apply For Our NGO Management Internship In Zambia?
“I really just wanted to do something with my summer that would distinguish me employability-wise, and that was worthwhile. And also to push me outside of my comfort zone”
People join our internships for all sorts of reasons. From the get-go, India was looking for new ways to challenge herself. I suppose we’re proud to say the internship delivered on that front.
What are you hoping to gain from your internship?
“In one word: experience. Because there’s that pre-existing interest in nonprofit work for me, getting solid experience and understanding what it’s actually like was really important. It also gave me a good foundation to build on career-wise, helped me get a taste for new jobs, and allowed me to put pre existing skills to good use.”
This is a fantastic mentality to take into a nonprofit internship abroad. One of the best applications of our internships is to substantiate education with real-world experience. That’s why a piece of advice we often give our interns is to be open-minded, adaptable, and willing to learn.
What was the application process like?
“There was a very quick turnaround for the application. They also recognized my prior experience with Roots right away which helped me feel more comfortable.”
Since we know that traveling to a foreign country to take part in challenging, important work is already a daunting prospect, we do all we can to make the onboarding process for our interns as smooth as possible.
“I expected a formal interview but it was more of a get-to-know-each-other session. They really just wanted to find out if what I wanted matched with what they had to offer, then helped me hash out details.”
What were some of the highlights of your internship?
Another important aspect of helping interns to rise to new challenges is providing them with a safe relaxing place to unwind after work. This is often cited as one of the best bits of an intern’s experience.
“I really enjoyed the time before dinner in the evening. I was usually the last one home, so I’d come back to find all the interns from other projects hanging out at the hostel. We’d chat, eat, then chat some more. It was a really lovely environment to relax and socialize as soon as you walked in the gates.”
Of course, a nonprofit internship abroad isn’t all about downtime. Often, especially with an intern like India, the most cherished memories from an internship are the obstacles overcome and the adversity faced.
“I’m really so grateful for how this experience really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Everything here is this amazing life experience that you likely wouldn’t get anywhere else. That’s the perfect balance that Roots provides: you get to create experiences yourself but at the same time they’re being offered to you and supported through it.”
What were some of the challenges of your internship?
Alas, the challenges of India’s internship were many. First of all, there are the obvious challenges that come with interning in Zambia, namely: culture shock.
Not blending in is obviously one of the biggest challenges. One of my strengths is adapting to new environments because of my international background, but for the first few days of my internship, I really felt isolated.
Nonprofit work can also be emotionally and mentally taxing too.
There’s an added responsibility of any social work in that working for an important cause comes with higher stakes. Obviously, you want to make as big an impact as possible. I came to realize that anything that I didn’t do would not get picked up by someone else.
Then, of course, India had to contend with the added difficulty of her luggage debacle.
Roots offered help with organizing the logistics of work and I also had help from the host organization but I had to deal with the emotional issues by myself. I think that’s where the life experience comes from though. That’s when you learn to do what you have to do without getting overwhelmed or flustered.
How have you come to view these challenges and setbacks now, at the end of your internship?
“To be honest, these were exactly the kind of experiences I was after.”
We’ve really focused on the difficulties India faced in this article. We don’t do this to deter those of you considering an internship. We want to highlight that what you may fear about a nonprofit internship abroad, might actually be what benefits you the most.
“The word I used to describe the first couple of days was alienating. Once I got over that though and got to see what was out there, my experience really changed. That process in itself, overcoming all that, was a huge confidence boost.”
Sometimes, the best thing that can happen for an intern is plans to go awry.
“That initial setback was probably the hardest part. Having to overcome the fact that things don’t always go to plan. In hindsight though, I’d argue it was one of the most valuable parts of the experience. You know, life isn’t always perfect and I had to deal with it. Despite that setback in the first week, I pushed myself to make the most of things and this is something I am particularly proud of.”
Would you recommend a Roots Internship to a friend?
“Definitely. I think Roots really attracts people who are interested in exploring all that life has to offer. Roots really jump out as an organization you can achieve that with.”
India’s experience, marked by setbacks and challenges, illustrates the transformative power of a Roots internship. While the allure of contributing to a meaningful cause and experiencing a new country is often the initial draw, the personal growth that stems from these internships shouldn’t be underestimated.
Her story serves as a testament to the potential for self-discovery and empowerment that awaits those who venture beyond their comfort zones. So, if you’re contemplating a nonprofit internship abroad, let India’s inspiring adventure serve as a reminder that a nonprofit internship abroad isn’t just about work experience, but life experience too.