Thursday, April 25, 2013

Week 14: Self-discovery through service

Post by Sterling Summerville and Emily Powers

Throughout the semester we have embarked on many excursions of self-discovery. Our experiences on various travel seminars, homestays, and destination tours have all helped us to gain not only a great appreciation for Southern African cultures and lifestyles; but they have also helped us learn a great deal about ourselves. Among these impactful excursions were our semester-long internship and volunteer experiences. At the beginning of the semester we were each granted positions with different organizations throughout Windhoek and Katutura (a township located slightly west of Windhoek) as volunteers or interns. The organizations we were placed with were selected with our interests and academic specialties taken into account.

Emily and Miranda discuss their internships after the presentations
Our internships and volunteer organizations ranged from the agricultural sector, to the healthcare industry, and everything in between. We each experienced our ups-and downs with our appointments, but surely came to value our time with the organizations we worked with.

On the 18th of April we had our farewell internship party that we invited staff members of our various organizations to. At the party, each student stood in front of the audience and gave a brief overview of their hosting organization and a synopsis of the work they completed over the semester. It was really a treat for us to see what each other had accomplished and it was nice to for us to have an opportunity to thank our organizations one last time for allowing us to come share in their work.

These internship experiences we had throughout the semester were very different for each of us. Overall though, it is safe to say they were all very meaningful. No matter how directly they related to our field of study, they contributed to our learning all the same. We learned that no matter if we are editing grant proposals, starting up social networking sites, or filling out medical record books that we are still learning just as much as in the traditional academic setting. Those sometimes mundane activities were there to teach us so much more.

Nan's coworker from NAMRIGHTS came to
watch her presentation
The biggest thing we learned from our experiences is first hand cross-cultural relations. By consistently going to our internships all semester, we were able to build relationships with many coworkers. We were able to learn first hand about cultures here in Namibia. This whole study abroad experience is all about not just learning about history, culture, politics, health care systems, etc. through readings and books but through experience and interaction. We were able to talk candidly with our coworkers about their knowledge and opinions on various things such as cultural practices and their opinions on the policies of health care.

Another great learning experience many of us went through is learning how to interact in the work environment with language barriers. Sometimes that meant us slowing down so we were easier to understand, or sometimes it meant us asking questions of clarification. Also, when others were talking in another language around us we had to overcome that obstacle of being the obvious outsider.

Overall, our internships taught us all many important lessons. The hands on work allowed us to really “get our hands dirty”, so to speak, in the Namibian lifestyle. Going to our personalized internships gave each of us unique opportunities to dive into our own interests and push us out of our comfort zones. Our internship and volunteer experiences made us think more critically about how the big picture policies are actually implemented and if they truly work. This Namibian experience would not have been the same without our internships and the people who work there. 

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