Rebekah Parrish completed a four-week Psychology Internship in Zanzibar – an island off the coast of mainland Tanzania in Africa. Zanzibar is a one-of-a-kind internship destination with white sand beaches, rich history and a friendly local culture. Here’s what Rebekah learned about patience and mindfulness as an intern living with a local family…
Tell us about your Psychology internship in Zanzibar. What type of tasks did your internship involve?
During my Psychology internship, I worked as a volunteer counsellor and teacher. I helped clients by creating lesson plans on mental health and ways to improve it, including recognizing depressive symptoms and ways to cope with them, improving communication and conflict management skills, and techniques to cope with anxiety. I also integrated morning mindfulness meditation sessions to help clients with mind and body balance.
In what ways did you contribute to your host organization? Did anything surprise you about your role?
I feel my contributions have supported the organization in both the short and long term. I didn’t expect to have so many hands-on experiences, nor did I expect my words to be taken seriously by the clients I worked with. I was wrong. The clients in the sober home constantly expressed gratitude to my teachings and advice. I not only heard it in their words, but I saw the changes in their actions.
Implementing my knowledge and skills that I’ve learned through my studies, combined with the hands-on experience in Zanzibar has made me feel confident and capable that I’ll make a great therapist back in America.
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What was it like settling into the first week of your internship?
The local behaviors and approaches were very different to what I had originally expected. I was not used to strangers coming up to me and wanting to start conversations. I was very hesitant at first, but I soon realized that was part of the cultural charm of Zanzibar. It’s how they express friendship and community. Everyone was very welcoming! I learned that being able to reply in Swahili made a huge difference rather than replying in English. It was great to see how excited locals got when I attempted to speak their language.
How did you overcome any cultural differences which you might have encountered?
I learned so much about Zanzibar’s culture during my stay, and similarly my host family and those around me learned a lot about my culture. My host family were very open to doing and trying “American” things. For example, all of the kids I lived with really enjoyed learning how to play UNO, a game they had never played before! They were also open to having conversations where we would compare and contrast our cultures and made a real effort to speak English to me even though their first language is Swahili. In return, I tried my best to speak Swahili with them, so we both had the opportunity to practice our language skills.
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What has been the biggest learning curve for you?
One surprising thing I learned about the culture in Zanzibar is that everyone takes their time with everything - it is a much slower pace of life . The most common phrase I heard while there was ‘Hakuna Matata’ which means ‘no worries’ or ‘no problems’. They live by that phrase! If you are late to work, ‘Hakuna Matata’, if you are having issues with planning a tour, ‘Hakuna Matata.’
Another phrase they live by is ‘pole pole’ which means ‘slowly slowly.’ Several times I was rushing to get to a destination I was told to slow down and take in my surroundings. A local told me that ‘when you are in a rush, you miss all the great things around you.’ After this conversation, I really started to observe my surroundings. I am so used to being in a rush to be somewhere and not stopping to have a conversation with those around me. This changed my perspective completely and really helped to take the stress off my internship experience by giving me the mindset of ‘do your best and do not stress, it is good enough.’
What advice would you give to other interns?
My advice to other interns who are traveling abroad to a country and joining a new culture - if imposter syndrome sets in, or you feel like someone else could be doing a better job, take a step back and rethink. There is always a chance your actions and words may impact someone, so do your best and accept that this is good enough.
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