Katherine Larsen, a recent OSU graduate, interned with IE3 in Cape Town, South Africa during the summer of 2014 at the Cape Town Refugee Centre. Majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences through the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Katherine was able to help counsel and provide guidance to refugees in the small community of Observatory. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Social Work graduate degree from Portland State University and plans to focus her career on clinical social work with the intent to work abroad in the future. Read on to learn about the ups and downs of returning from a life-changing IE3 Global Internship!
It has been a year since I have returned to the United States. I still cannot believe that my time abroad is over. As I reflect back on my 10-week internship at the Cape Town Refugee Centre, it feels as though time simply flew by, although I know that each day was packed with adventure. There are so many qualities that I have gained through this experience and I feel as though I have changed in a more than noticeable way. Not only do I feel more independent, I feel confident in myself as a person, a future social worker, and a community member. I have made an abundance of new relationships and now have global friendships that will last a lifetime. By consistently challenging myself to work diligently at the Cape Town Refugee Centre, I have gained valuable skills that will stay with me throughout my future career. Through volunteering and living within a new culture, I connected to the suburb Observatory and the city of Cape Town in an unexplainable way.
I learned an abundance of life lessons throughout this experience. I took time daily to reflect on my experiences, journal, and conduct continuous research regarding South Africa. One of my favorite pieces of reading I completed during my internship abroad was “After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa” by Douglas Foster. The biggest lesson I learned was that I cannot have control over all situations. This trip allowed me to be more spontaneous and to stop sweating the small things. My stress levels had never been so low! In addition to learning to go with the flow, I learned how to immerse myself deeply into a culture and adapt to the changes in lifestyle. My work as an intern at the Cape Town Refugee Centre taught me that everybody has a story and I will never learn that story if I judge a book by its cover. Opening myself up to experiences and simply listening during one-on-one conversations has massively shifted my opinion of others and has taught me to be more empathetic to those who are different than me. Furthermore, I have come to realize how much circumstance plays a role in an individual’s life. I worked with people in South Africa that have worked so hard to better their situation but were held back by many obstacles. Many people will continue to struggle throughout their lives, simply because of the family and geographic region they were born into. I will hold all of these realizations that I made during my global internship with me for the rest of my life.
Coming home and learning to adapt back to the United States’ way of life has been a challenge. One of the most frustrating parts of ending an internship abroad is my inability to explain in words what my experience was like. Friends and family have asked me to share what it was like and although I try my best, nothing comes close to what my summer actually was. Cape Town is a city unlike any other place I have ever been and it is hard to capture in words the beauty of the culture and the people. I especially miss walking to the train in the mornings and seeing Table Mountain hovering over the city. Regardless of my struggles adjusting, being home with my loved ones is wonderful.
Although my time in South Africa has come to an end, I know that I will return to the wonderful neighborhood of Observatory in the future. There is a quote on the streets of downtown Cape Town that holds so much truth: “I came here to change Cape Town, but Cape Town changed me.” I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful experience in the amazing country of South Africa. I left part of my heart in the city of Cape Town and I cannot wait to visit my second home again soon.
To learn more about the study abroad and international internships OSU offers, click here!