Guest Blogger: One Recent Grad’s Leap Abroad
The Light Bulb Moment
“What are your plans after you graduate?” This is the dreaded question most seniors in college are asked repeatedly, by family, friends and sometimes even complete strangers. For me, I didn’t have a nice, neat and succinct answer.
The thought of traveling overseas had always been enticing, but I knew I didn’t just want to take the typical backpacking trip through Europe. It was important to me to have an opportunity that would allow me to continue expanding my professional experience in the communications field, in addition to gaining a global business perspective. I also wanted the ability to immerse myself in a new culture, not just be a tourist.
Visiting Africa had long been an interest of mine, although one I kept to myself. The details of where, when and in what capacity were still unclear to me. After doing some general internet research, I came across an internship program called Volunteer Adventure Corps in Cape Town, South Africa. The program had all of the aspects I was looking for and even helped arrange housing, weekly activities among other interns and general assistance if needed. After discussing with the program staff what type of work I was interested in and the logistics of my arrival, my internship with a small PR agency was confirmed. Then I was off to South Africa.
Jumping in head first
Taking the leap to move to a city almost 9,000 miles away was completely terrifying, intimidating, yet exhilarating. To date it is the best decision I have ever made for myself, both personally and professionally. People say you will learn so much about yourself living and working abroad, and it’s true. Each Day in Cape Town I was tested. From having to figure out where simple things like the grocery store and laundromat were located, to taking the train to and from work. Also a more complex issue was having communication barriers because someone couldn’t understand my accent or vice versa.
Public Relations Internship
One of my main responsibilities during my public relations internship was to create, plan and implement a social media campaign for one of our clients. I learned how important vital planning and staying organized are to the success of any project. In addition, I was responsible for researching which members of the media to contact on behalf of our clients. Acquiring these hands-on work experiences allowed me to develop transferable skills, which include managing client and media relationships, as well as being able to seamlessly transition between working on accounts in two different industries and in a culture that’s different from mine.
Regardless of the task, my internship increased my self-confidence in my skills and knowledge. This experience reaffirmed working in the public relations field is the right career path for me, whether it is in the U.S., South Africa or anywhere else. I proved to myself I can be thrown into any situation and thrive.
When I reflect on my internship in Cape Town, I was a part of some pretty incredible moments – from attending the announcement of the city being named World Design Capital 2014, listening to live music during a concert sponsored by one of our clients or watching the children’s eyes light up after opening their gifts at another client’s Christmas party. My co-workers not only were teachers in the office, they were also my personal Cape Town tour guides. They constantly educated me about the city’s complex history, delicious food and numerous languages. Without them I would not have felt so connected to a place so far from home.
Having professional international experience will always be advantageous. As a current job seeker myself, my internship is a great conversation starter. It is usually the first topic a hiring manager bring ups during an interview. Listing my PR internship in Cape Town on my resume is not only eye-catching, but it makes a bold statement regarding my willingness to challenge myself. It also says that I value cultural awareness, particularly in the workplace. With business becoming increasingly global, an understanding of others’ customs is essential.
My bungee jumping adventure the third week is quite symbolic of my entire time in South Africa. I was completely and utterly petrified. I second guessed myself a lot in the beginning, but once I took the plunge, I was so thankful I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. With that, I will pass on this piece of advice I received when first contemplating working abroad: GO! You will never regret exposing yourself to a world undiscovered, meeting people from all walks of life and learning more than a thing or two along the way.
As St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Jennifer Quayle has a Bachelor of Arts in Written Communications with a minor in Graphic Design. She resides in Wisconsin and is currently job searching. She is open to pursuing opportunities both locally and abroad, particularly in Cape Town. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn or via email at email@example.com.