Considering a career in social work and education? Get inspired and learn about Anastasia’s Social Work & Education internship in Zanzibar with Intern Abroad HQ!
Studying Economics and Political Science, Anastasia chose a Social Work & Education internship, to immerse herself in a new culture and broaden her mindset. Seeking a career that serves the global community, Anastasia is interested in contributing to sustainable development research and policy. Read more to learn about Anastasia’s culturally immersive experience with a unique NGO organization!
Hi Anastasia! Thank you for sharing your experience with us! Tell us about what motivated you to intern in Zanzibar?
Prior to this internship, I had no previous background experience working with an NGO. I wanted to learn as much as I could about a diverse culture, rather than just spending time in tourist-oriented regions. I also wanted to reflect on the direction of my career path and gain practical experience. I had certain expectations and preconceptions about what it’d be like working with an NGO but I wanted to explore this in depth.
Tell us about your Social Work & Education internship placement - what were you involved in?
For this internship, I was placed with an NGO Community Foundation in Zanzibar. It includes an International School but also focuses on a range of priorities, so there was scope for participants to assist with construction, farming and gardening projects, as well as summer camps.
The internship position itself was varied and could include a lot of tasks and responsibilities depending on what an intern wants to do. Because the Foundation is foremost an educational foundation, having a vast library is integral to their organization, as it helps its students of all ages learn.
Therefore, my main role was focused on the school’s library. This role developed, as the more time I spent there, the more tasks people asked me to do for the library. I never imagined doing this but I really enjoyed it!
I was busy cataloging new books, emailing publishing companies for donations, and planning story time for the children. I put in my best effort and I felt that the role aligned well with my abilities and goals.
I organized and color-coded for the ease of teachers and students, to help them find books appropriate for each subject or age group. I also picked stories appropriate for the Zanzibari children and read to them, which exposed them to more English. I created a digital library for the Foundation’s vocational learning center for women. This was developed to assist women with their study of business, carpentry and other subjects - or even just to provide reading for fun, to practice English language skills. For both of these libraries, I created catalogs to keep track of all the books and new donations
In addition to my work with books, I helped in a myriad of other tasks, such as observing and assisting the teachers in the school during lessons, helping to keep the classrooms clean and organized, and supervising the women working in the sewing center. I also contributed as a leader in a weekend camp for children from the nearby village of Kizimkazi, leading activities and helping the campers if they had any issues.
I spent some time helping the marketing department when they needed extra help with creating brochures. The marketing team is trying to find more sponsors and donors, but there are many technological problems and trouble finding support in general.
This internship was really varied and it pushed me to contribute across several fields all at once: education, marketing and outreach, management and supervision. Keeping busy means assisting with different priorities and the on-the-job experience was always valuable… while always helping the Foundation leaders with the heavy workload that comes with running a nonprofit!
Were there language barriers that impacted your experience?
There is a language barrier that interns should prepare for - not just between Swahili and English but also between Turkish and Swahili (or Turkish and English). The culture at the Foundation was predominantly Turkish. There was not much Swahili spoken, compared to Turkish.
(The lessons at the school are ideally conducted in English. Interns don’t typically teach until they’ve been with the organization for at least three months. Short-term interns usually get involved in the summer camps as counselors or leaders, or in the permaculture section. The teachers are mainly Tanzanian).
I did study some basic Swahili before my trip but I continued working on it in Zanzibar, to communicate better with Zanzibari people. When talking with Zanzibaris or Tanzanians, I always tried to ask questions and practice the language with them. This improved my ability to communicate with the children in the schools too, as I could supplement words in English by using some Swahili, to help the students learn new words.
Fellow interns and volunteers at this placement also come from many countries from around the world and meeting them broadened my mindset a lot! The Foundation was certainly a collaboration of different worldviews and countries! However, the development of communications skills included learning what is appropriate in which situation. I learned the proper greetings for different people, which built good relationships and helped to overcome any cultural barriers or confusion.
I must say that technology helps a lot in situations like these. When there was confusion as to what the other person was saying, or if I wanted to communicate something that I don’t know the right word for in Swahili, I could search it on Google Translate. It didn’t always work if the Wi-Fi or phone service was unreliable. However, I usually traveled with at least one person who could speak both English and Swahili. In times when I couldn’t reply on Google or someone else to help, I’d just do my best to communicate with my limited knowledge of the language and gestures. Body language is important even when two people are speaking the same language, and body language and gestures can be a big help when there is a language barrier as well.
How did you adapt to the cultural differences?
At home in the U.S., I typically wear shorts during the summer. However, here in Zanzibar where the majority of people are Muslim, the dress is much more conservative - so I changed my wardrobe to wear only clothes that cover my knees and shoulders. Although I don’t hold the conservative views of the Zanzibaris, I believe that changing my style of clothes in a diverse culture helped me to practice open-mindedness and respect.
Something very different from the U.S. is the use of haggling or negotiating in shopping. Adapting to a different custom in the marketplace is an important skill to have. The merchant will start at a higher price than they actually expect, and the buyer will try to convince them to reduce the price. Engaging in price negotiation also helped my communication skills! Good negotiation skills not only makes shopping cheaper but it builds better communication with Zanzibari people. A particularly memorable moment was my first time bargaining: I bought a small souvenir and negotiated the price down to half, which was fun! The locals in Zanzibar were very friendly and helpful! When traveling to Kizimkazi, Stonetown, and Kwerekwere, I was able to communicate with Zanzibari people and learned to buy things the way they do!
I definitely am more appreciative of the living conditions in the United States after my internship in Zanzibar as well. Clean water, electricity and internet connection are pretty much always available to me, while in Zanzibar these are harder to access, so you learn not to take such services for granted. Even things that I don’t think about when I consider living conditions, like entertainment, are harder to access in Zanzibar. Keeping myself entertained wasn’t difficult because I was busy with the internship. However, you notice how in small villages, there are no movie theaters or parks. Details like this help me realize the abundance of everything in America, both wants and needs, and this appreciation is one of my biggest takeaways from the trip.
Do you have advice for others on how to best adapt to cultural differences?
I would advise anyone with the privilege of being in a multicultural setting to talk to as many people as you can, to exchange ideas and compare experiences. And if there is no one from your own country, that’s nothing to worry about. Even coming from different countries with different beliefs, you will still undoubtedly have things in common with people you meet, and being open to meeting others will make any traveling experience more enjoyable.
It’s important to remain open minded, as you can learn something from every culture with which you come into contact. For example, although I came to Zanzibar to see Zanzibari culture, I also found myself learning more about Turkish culture as well.
I believe that it was important for me to learn how to adapt to a new environment and especially in such a short time period. Even during the first week, I was finding a niche of work that I could do for the Foundation while I figured out how things worked. This flexibility and initiative will no doubt help me at any workplace.
What did you do and explore outside of the internship?
I had flexibility to plan my internship schedule and hours, so I was able to explore Zanzibar as well. I made a point to travel to different locations on the island so that I could experience the variety of lifestyles.
My favorite memory was traveling to Stone Town with the friends that I’d made over the course of my trip. The other participants really made the trip enjoyable and memorable, and made it easier to explore the culture of Zanzibar than it would have been if I was on my own.
Stone Town was amazing because of the friendliness of the residents. In Stone Town especially, locals will come up and talk to you - some of them are trying to sell you tours or souvenirs, but no one acted harshly towards me, even if I tell them I don’t want what they’re selling.
We went to the night market in Stone Town, which has amazing food and an incredible atmosphere, full of tourists and local residents alike. The city is also where my friends from India and Turkey taught me how to negotiate prices. Trying it myself and then seeing them haggle with the shopkeepers was not only entertaining but also educational, and I now have some negotiating strategies for my future trips.
We also went to Turtle Island, also known as Prison Island, where there’s an old, unused prison as well as a habitat with almost 200 tortoises. Feeding and petting the turtles while getting to know our tour guide was a great experience.
What was one of your best take-aways from the internship?
After doing this internship, I feel like I’ve gained the ability to reach out to others and suggest ideas or volunteer projects for tasks. Introducing myself to other people has sometimes been intimidating to me, but after having to introduce myself to so many new faces over the course of the internship, it became much easier. I now feel more empowered to get to know potential colleagues and start conversations about work, ideas, or simply get to know people. I feel grateful that my placement had such a strong sense of community, and fostered a sense of extroversion in myself that I may not have discovered without this trip!
What advice would you give to other interns who’d be considering a similar experience?
I was able to take initiative and go out looking for ways to help, and come up with some ideas myself. The biggest piece of advice I would give to others is that you may not be doing what you initially imagined. There are many aspects of operations that keep organizations afloat and sustainable. It helps to imagine the big picture and examine how the work you do, even if it seems trivial, contributes to the larger goal of helping those in need. It helped me to know that there is flexibility for interns, so you can choose what assignment or placement works best for you. There can be spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment decision-making, which nonprofit work necessitates. So you must remain adaptable and keep an open mind.
What were the benefits and highlights of this internship experience?
There were numerous personal benefits of my internship. The first being experience working with a nongovernmental organization. I’ve considered working for an NGO as a career path, and this internship provided valuable insight into how these organizations function. Especially in a developing country, an NGO works differently than a business; it is less organized, more flexible, more spontaneous. Having had the opportunity to adapt to this environment, it can help me contribute to a nonprofit in the future.
As a politics and economics student, I hope to one day contribute to the creation of policy. All of what I’ve observed here, inside and outside the school, will inform decisions I make regarding policy. This will be especially important if I work in international politics, and if I am in a position to make decisions which impact the lives of others.
The most difficult thing about departing from this experience in Zanzibar was leaving the sense of community and purpose that my internship provided. Not only did I meet many incredible and dedicated people, but I also found out what it was like to work toward a common humanitarian cause. Each task feels important and meaningful, which can be hard to replicate. Seeing the direct results of your social work or volunteering is so rewarding, especially when working with young kids who are quick to let you know how much they appreciate you, or how happy they are with your efforts. This experience has inspired me to look into humanitarian and nonprofit careers in the hopes that I can incorporate this rewarding work into my future. Interning abroad has been very meaningful and rewarding work. Even if I don’t do it as a career, I know that I can continue volunteering in my free time.
How can I get started?
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