Interview: On Summer Law Internships in Cape Town

Australian undergraduate Sophie Clarke looks back on her international intern abroad programme in South Africa

Twenty two-year-old Brisbane native Sophie Clarke is not the type to hazard a trip halfway across the world for an internship opportunity only to find herself fetching coffee.

The Australian undergraduate is a bit of an overachiever, studying toward both a Bachelor of Arts and Law degree at university and having previously done some volunteer work in the human rights/legal field in Africa.  In short, when she started hunting for a more professional more structured summer international internship in Cape Town and stumbled upon intern abroad programme VACorps, she really took time to evaluate whether the company was the right choice.

As it turns out, she ended up doing not one but two internships in Cape Town and she extended her stay in the Mother City a full four months. We picked her brain about why she loved both her experience and her time in South Africa’s most famous seaside metropolis so much. Where did you do your internship?

Sophie: I first worked at a refugee advocacy centre called ARESTA and then did my second intership at the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of the Western Cape. What was your role at your internship – what tasks were you charged with?

Sophie: At ARESTA I worked in the advocacy section of the organisation and assisted with research on refugee and immigration issues and writing submissions to the government regarding changes in the law and advocating for refugee rights. At the UWC Legal Aid Clinic I was able to observe client consultations, attend various court proceedings and occasionally assist with legal drafting tasks. Did you enjoy your internships?

Sophie: I did enjoy my internships. They provided me with opportuntity to engage in a field of work that I am genuinely interested in and in a context that is complex and unique. I was lucky to meet and work with some great and genuine people who were always willing to share their knowledge and expertise. Do you think your internship will be helpful in your ultimate job hunt?

Sophie: I think it will assist in my future career search. It gave me a new perspective to take back home to both my studies and my life, and I was exposed to situations that allowed me to develop skills I don’t believe I would have otherwise. It is invaluable to any job in any field to have practical experience and that is exactly what you get with internships like the ones I did. How did you find life in Cape Town?

Sophie: I absolutely loved life in Cape Town, so much so that I extended my trip for an extra four months! I lived in Observatory, which had a great vibe and was home to a lot of students and international volunteers, so it was an exciting and fun place to live. Life in Cape Town was never boring; the city offers so many different things to do, so there was never a dull moment, and I met some of the most incredible people – all of whom made exploring Cape Town life even more exciting. What about the city surprised you most?

Sophie: Perhaps not the thing that surprised me most, but the thing that I think I found most interesting about Cape Town is the diversity. There are so many cultures influencing the city and interacting in ways that really brings life to Cape Town. What is your favourite Mother City memory?

Sophie: How do I choose!! I have so many fantastic memories from my time in Cape Town. Conquering a hike up Table Mountain during my first few weeks in the city would have to be up there – getting to the top of Table Mountain and looking out over Cape Town is a pretty amazing moment. Plenty of other memories spring to mind too – wine tasting, lying on the beach at Muizenberg and Camps Bay, going to Robben Island and Cape Point, weekend visits to the Hout Bay and Old Biscuit Mill markets, picnics and concerts in Kirstenbosch Gardens and hikes up Lion’s Head. What is one thing you recommend that all future interns do?

Sophie: A sunrise Lion’s Head hike! Watching the sunrise over the city from the top of Lion’s Head is incomparable, and I would also recommend the full moon hike! What did you find challenging about life in Cape Town?

Sophie: What I found most challenging about life in Cape Town was in regards to safety. It was never a major issue for me, but it did take a while to adjust to being more cautious than I would be at home, mainly in regards to walking around at night and keeping an eye on my stuff when I was out. What advice could you give to future interns that could help them acclimate to the Mother City?

Sophie: I think the best advice is to leave all preconceptions behind and be open to new experiences. Cape Town isn’t going to be like home, but that makes it so much more exciting and you will get so much more out of your time if you embrace everything that is thrown at you. It’s also important to realise that living and working in a new city undoubtedly comes with both highs and lows, but the overall experience is something very much worth doing. What did you think of the VACorps programme overall?

Sophie: I think the VACorps program is really great. VACorps provides people with internships that are tailored to their specific interests. They have fantastic contacts with countless organisations operating in Cape Town and are best suited to set you up with an internship that you will really enjoy and get something out of. VACorps strikes the perfect balance between providing a great support network for its interns and giving interns the independence and opportunity to explore Cape Town on their own - and the amazing team working in Cape Town are some of the loveliest, most fun and interesting people you’ll meet along the way. The VACorps Friday activities are a great way to see Cape Town and the surrounding areas, and VACorps Travel organises amazing trips both around South Africa and to neighbouring African countries. I travelled to Namibia on a VACorps Travel trip, which was another highlight of my time away. Would you recommend the VACorps programme?

Sophie: I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a professional, challenging and rewarding internship and a chance to live in one of the best cities in the world! Would you recommend Cape Town as an internship destination overall?

Sophie: I can’t speak more highly of my time in Cape Town, and I would definitely recommend it as an internship destination. Cape Town is a culturally rich city with a lot of diversity, which makes working there both challenging and interesting. I think if you ask anyone who has lived there they would tell you that the Mother City has a way of drawing you in and making you never want to leave!! What’s your favourite word that you learned in Cape Town? Use it in a sentence for us :)

Sophie:  I think my favourite South African slang would have to be ‘robots’, which means traffic lights. It made my grocery shopping trips much more exciting being able to buy the pack of ‘robot peppers’ (one yellow, one green, and one red). I think I used ‘robots’ most often when catching the taxis to and from work, so “Next stop please, just up past the robots!”


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


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