The Leidener

A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Why you shouldn’t prepare for an internship and research project abroad

3 months in Accra, Ghana

I have just returned from 3 months in Ghana. In Ghana, I was working at Impact Hub Accra as part of my combined internship and research requirement for the 1 year African Studies master. While based at Impact Hub Accra I assisted the team with business development as part of my internship responsibilities. My research, meanwhile, focused on the role that the hub plays in facilitating the pathway of local entrepreneurs.

In this series of blog posts I have been sharing the experiences of my time spent in Africa. What did an average day look like, who did I hang out with and what kind of work was I doing? The answers to all of these questions and more can be found in previous posts I have written on The Leidener, looking into what it’s really like to conduct your internship and research in Africa.

In today’s post, I look back at my 3 months in Ghana and reflect on what the experience taught me.

You can never be prepared, and you should never compare

Looking back, the biggest lesson I learned was that you can never be prepared, and you should never compare, during an internship and research project abroad.

In the months leading up to my departure to Ghana, I had visions of what I would be doing, where I would be living and how I would fill my spare time. My point of departure for this was all based, if loosely, on previous travels I had done on the continent. On account of my extensive travels across Eastern and Southern Africa, I imagined myself working in a city which was lively yet languid, with a mild climate and that I had would spend every weekend visiting a new region of the country or possibly exploring Accra itself.

The reality was very different and above all, very hot. Accra is immersed in bubbling, momentous and overwhelming energy. The city knocked me back every day with a wave of heat and exciting, if at times very exhausting, opportunities. A combination of nearly 3 million inhabitants, decades of peaceful elections and significant investment and growth opportunities have led to the development of a city which is bursting at the seams with momentum. I was totally unprepared for the types of personal successes, challenges and obstacles which were set to follow. The first couple of weeks that I was in Accra, I was so overwhelmed by the adjustment that I was hit by my own variant of ‘sleeping sickness’. Even as time continued and my fatigue wore off, it became clear that incessant planning and predicting what I would be doing on a weekly, let alone daily basis, was impossible. ‘Going with the flow’ truly was the best antidote.

Sore spots and adjusting to difficulties

There were days where, frankly, it almost became too much. Sore spots arose in the form of difficulties in getting adjusted to differences in working cultures and practices, living with intermittent power outages and occasional communicative misunderstandings. My research also resulted in numerous headaches, whether it be in the form of my own changing opinions, challenges in data collection or simply being at the mercy of a slower pace of events. Yet looking at the ‘big picture’, these challenges were minor and insignificant. For every day that I was overwhelmed by it all -frustrated and tired- there would be 3 that presented themselves with such incredible lessons and junctures that it was hard to dwell on any difficulties. Above all, the people I met and friends I made meant that I did not face any struggles alone.

In addition to it being impossible to truly ‘prepare’ for an experience such as this, it was also completely futile to try and ‘compare’, whether it be to previous experiences I had had or to those experiences of my classmates scattered across the continent. While I was working at a hub in Accra, classmates of mine were working in policy departments, investigating illegal mining activities and working with NGOs- to name but a few- in all sorts of capacities, ranging from the urban to extremely rural and desolate settings and everything in between.

 

No experience is alike

Sure, I was not prepared for the majority of the things I experienced, but how could I be? This was a 3 month stint unlike anything I had ever done before. Sure, I could not compare my experience to that of my fellow classmate, even if she was based in the same city as me, but why should I? By doing so, it is to suggest that each of our experiences had no differentiation, no personal struggles nor victories, and no authentic identity. From what I have gauged so far by speaking to my fellow classmates now that we have all returned, nothing could be further from the truth.

Truly encapsulating what I encountered during my 3 months in Ghana is very hard to do, let alone to express through this blog post. As such, the only advice I can truly give to aspiring Leiden students who intend to complete an internship or research project abroad is don’t prepare and don’t expect your experience to resemble that of anyone else. It is in the differences that your own unique experiences and learnings lie.

 

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This entry was posted on April 25, 2017 by in Uncategorized.
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