Volunteer Adventure Corps

Interview: on Occupational Therapy Internships in Cape Town

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Volunteer Adventure Corps

Interview: on Occupational Therapy Internships in Cape Town

American graduate Hillary Johns looks back on her internship, her travels and…why she loved the chicken in the Mother City

New Orleans native Hillary Johns didn’t do a lot of research and she didn’t really know what to expect when she decided to take up an occupational therapy internship halfway across the world in Cape Town, South Africa (SA). One thing, though, that the kinesiology graduate could never have anticipated is falling utterly, desperately in love…with the chicken. 

As she says, “There’s just something different about it. I don’t know what is it, but I would recommend it [the chicken] to everyone.” 

All jokes aside, the quirky foodie revelation is just one of many interesting discoveries the Louisiana resident came upon in Cape Town,  and luckily, we were able to steal some of her time in the final week of her internship to get serious about what else she was surprised by, what she thought of the Mother City and whether she would recommend the VACorps programme to other potential interns.  

CapeTownMagazine.com: Why did you decide to do an internship abroad? 

Hillary: After finishing undergrad I realised that I wanted to take things slower in life and travel a bit before I went to grad school and then into the workplace immediately after that. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: And why did you pick Cape Town as a destination? 

Hillary: Two summers ago I was in Kenya for a three-week volunteering programme through ACTS, an African-based Christian tourism and missionary organisation. While we were there we wrote letters to ourselves, and the leaders of the trip said they would send them to us at the right time in our lives. I received my letter and in it I was talking about how I really needed to follow through with checking out Cape Town, which was a desination one of the trip leaders recommended. As fate would have it, I had just started checking out the VACorps programme in Cape Town, and the letter really made it clear that I needed to go. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: Where in the Mother City did you do your internship? 

Hillary: I worked at the Tembaletu School for the physically disabled in the Gugulethu township. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What was your role at your internship – what tasks were you charged with? 

Hillary: With my occupational therapy concentration, I try and help people with their fine motor coordination. At the internship I did a lot of shadowing and observation, but I also got to lead beading and baking courses, which made me realise that here are a lot of fun ways to teach them [students] not only motor coordination but that they can still be part of everyday life. I also got to work with a lot of physical therapists, which was cool. I even had the opportunity to teach my own physio student. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: Did you enjoy your internship and do you think it will be helpful in your ultimate job hunt? 

Hillary: I really loved the people I was working with – they made the experience really great. The kids had a great appreciation for what you were doing – and a lot of times I felt like they helped me more than I helped them. I also feel that I’ll have an advantage over my peers going into grad school because I’ve been able to get so much hands-on experience from the internship. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do this. Plus, during undergrad you don’t really learn much about what you’re going to be doing in your actual job.  And even when I worked as an OT technician at home [in Louisiana], I basically just cleaned up and observed. Here I was able to lead my own groups and I actually did what I will be doing. I wasn’t just cleaning my mats all the time. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: Did you like life in Cape Town? What did you like about it? 

Hillary: I came in the winter and I just think it’s beautiful. I also just really loved the people here. They’re just so nice and down to earth. There’s also lots of good food. The chicken here is just so much better. I don’t what it is. I would recommend the chicken to everyone – actually all the food is good. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What is your favourite Mother City memory? 

Hillary: Mostly I just liked hanging out with my roommates - just intermingling with South Africans, experiencing their company and connecting with people across the world with dinner and movie nights at home. One memory that also sticks out though is going with my roommates to Boulders Beach to see the penguins - I got to hang out of the train window on the way and they told me I was a true Capetonian. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What is one thing you recommend that all future interns do? 

Hillary: Interns have to do the moonlight mass bike tour. You can rent one [a bike] in Obs, and there’s a special train that takes you through. Or you can rent bikes in town. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What advice could you give to future interns that could help them acclimate to the Mother City? 

Hillary: Come open-minded. Some interns complain about silly things – just remember where you are and try and appreciate the different cultures around you. Also sometimes you just have to come to terms with the fact that you have to slow down - you’re on African time. I’ve come to see it in a different light – we are supposed to slow down. In America, everything is so fast-paced and there’s so many expectations.  Finally, pack a towel. I had to use my sweater the first night. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What did you think of the VACorps internship programme overall? 

Hillary: I love VACorps. I got to know Vanessa and Thomas on the Wild Coast trip – they’re really cool people. They (VACorps) have the perfect balance of taking care of you and giving you the free space to do things on your own. I also like that they’re (VACorps) always open to opinions and always looking to improve, and I think they’re good at getting to know you through interviews and placing you in the right housing situations. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: Do you think VACorps did a good job placing you in your internship? 

Hillary: They matched me up perfectly, and in general, they work really hard to make good matches. I’ve even had two friends that made up their own internship – one guy wanted to do a radio show. VACorps had never had an intern request that, but they organised it for him. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: Would you recommend VACorps, and would you consider coming back to Cape Town? 

Hillary: Yes, they took care of everything, from the meals to where you were staying – and they also have these Friday excursions that are really neat. As for Cape Town, you have the mountains, the beach, the culture, the music...the chicken. I’ll be back. I would like to come back in January, but I also want to travel elsewhere. 

CapeTownMagazine.com: What’s your favourite word that you learned in Cape Town?  

I really like word ‘ubuntu’ because of what it stands for: it’s the idea that we’re all connected. 


Want to find out more about Hillary’s intern abroad programme. Read our interview with the founder of internship company VACorps.


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