Equipped with the knowledge that I was only in my third year and that I could afford to bide my time until the storm had passed, I decided to take the initiative to venture out into the unknown. I figured that while everyone was adjusting their plans, that perhaps I could take the opportunity to try replacing my Russian travel arrangements with something just as beneficial to my international mediation pursuits. My eventual decision would take me sailing across some of the most frightening waters of my academic career into an unchartered territory that caused many a bold undergraduate to quake with fear: online internships.
Now where would one who is versed in Eastern European studies find a program suited for a career in international mediation? South Africa, of course! It was entirely unexpected. But as soon as the announcement fell into my inbox saying that positions for SIT’s brand-new virtual internship in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and international relations were open, I had to apply. But wait, this is in South Africa. Did I know anything about South Africa? …No. Did I find any other kinds of internships that fit so neatly into my academic and career plans as this one? …Also no. So I signed up, and I got in!
What settled some of my anxious nerves at the program’s outset was the knowledge that I, along with a small team of students, would be given a two-week orientation and a personalized crash-course of South African history. What I had not anticipated was the flexibility of the program and how spread out our entire team was. Not only were the program supervisors situated in their headquarters in Durban, South Africa, but many of my colleagues were located on opposite sides of the US and in other countries. Ooh, I’d have to get good at time zone math really quick! Our weekly synchronous sessions were all recorded and occurred at the convenience of both the supervisors and the students, so there was usually a lot of juggling on everyone’s part to make sure we could all be there and awake for the day’s lesson.
Despite our separation from one another over the virtual medium, the group’s dynamic was fantastic! We established an easy communications network via WhatsApp and email which allowed for us to help one another with our assignments and support each other during the rough seasons of the semester. The advisors always made themselves available for feedback and consultation, and the material we covered within a few weeks had given us the context needed to approach our semester-long task: the summary transcription of nearly 75 intergenerational dialogues across the world.
This semester as the world’s plans ground to a halt and nations had to prioritize the management of the pandemic, the non-government organization of ACCORD (the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes) decided to momentarily turn its attention away from African politics and focus on helping its partners in the UN. We as interns for SIT, were assigned to aid ACCORD in their Global Peace project. This project would encompass a series of intergenerational discussions conducted by prominent leaders and representatives of the youth across the world to find practical solutions to global issues. Our group was tasked reviewing, analyzing, and transcribing summaries of the most salient points drawn from these dialogues for the UN Secretary General’s viewing.
This internship allowed me to interact with the international community in a way that greatly improved my communication and writing skills. Although the internship work was conducted completely virtually, it significantly broadened my horizons, contributed to my international experiences, and allowed me to perceive the world in a way that enabled me to work more effectively in the processes of conflict resolution, diplomacy, and mediation. I couldn’t recommend a better program to those considering work in international relations. The patience of the supervisors and their commitment to helping students learn how to conduct international operations of peace surpassed that of anything I had found in the states.
Interested in pursuing a virtual international internship? This innovative program allows students to put accessibility and mobility concerns aside to develop meaningful professional connections with international companies, NGOs, health and education organizations, and so on. Although it’s not a substitute for a traditional on-site experience, these programs provide a project-based pathway for students to connect with international organizations. Learn more about options to internationalize your degree plan by adding a virtual international internship to your semester.