The past two weeks have been the most enlightening for me in a number of different ways. Being in a professional environment with a non-profit organization that is so heavily involved in the political sphere, I was thrown into the pool of summer interns who come to Washington DC, for a chance to witness this world of work and prepare for it by acquainting ourselves with its in and outs as best as we can.At first I was overwhelmed and quite anxious about being the young intern in a massive organisation, but when I realised that there are others around me who are on the same journey and who share the same concerns, I soon relaxed and started to fall into the life and hustle of the other inters in DC. Lunch times are the best times to see the masses of young faces, sharply dressed and with the eagerness and springy steps that can only be found in summer interns. Everyone knows that Capitol Hill is a buzz in the summer because of all the interns who come for various events, briefings and hearings. Hence the joke that interns have a sharp sense for free food (which is always available at this or that event on the Hill) and this is why they can always be found in masses at the Capitol.
Being in the US at this time means that we are able to meet and interact with so many other interns from all over the United States and if we’re lucky, from other parts of the world too. This makes the experience so much richer. To have young people like ourselves, who are so passionate about making a positive influence in the world and are actively engaged in their country’s systems and procedures and its institutions. This has also made me able to open up and make friends with young Americans that I otherwise may have found hard to do. As we all follow the different aspirations that we have, we find ourselves in the same organisations, engaged in similar tasks, exchanging opinions and thoughts about the future or status quo and in the process, the cultural exchange and understanding that occurs is beyond anything one can read in the papers or the web.
I have also come to realise the immense effort that organisations put into their internship programs. Many of us received thorough orientations from people who familiarize us with the company’s values, operations, staff and everything else that we need to know. It’s the small things like staff members stooping to greet and ask about who you are and where you’re from, or if you need anything that show the willingness and commitment to developing and investing in young people. I truly appreciate this institutional culture of giving young people a space in the workplace – to contribute equally, to ask questions and to learn freely. I hope that soon, in South Africa, we can create a culture of youth exposure into the workplace, that is so big and exciting as we do here in Washington, because a nation that values its youth demonstrates a commitment to the continuity of growth, innovation, and meaningful collaboration.
Having people around to help me navigate this experience makes this all the more worthwhile. From people on the metro who give directions and tips when I’m lost, to staff who offer to show you all the interesting and vibrant places in town, to host families who share a scoop of ice cream after a long, rough day and let me vent, offering their sympathetic sighs or motivational words… there really is a strong network of support that makes this experience worth it and that you’re not just a small sardine in a massive ocean.