GRIP, Internships Abroad Way Out of My Comfort Zone!

June 21, 2018
By Areeba Shaikh, CPHI '19

TASK Applied Science - Cape Town, South Africa

Having never traveled on my own before, Cape Town sets the bar quite high for any future endeavors I plan to undertake. I fell in love with the breathtaking views, especially of Table Mountain (pictured above), almost instantly and have since loved exploring the city, whenever possible. Embarking on this journey was completely out of my comfort zone on its own but there are things which have made the trip worthwhile thus far. 

I've met people from all over the world. Capetonians are a diverse bunch on its own but living near the University of Cape Town adds to that diversity many folds. The community here is truly diverse in terms of the various languages, religions etc. South Africa consists of 11 official languages and it is common to meet people speaking different languages anywhere you go. However, English unites us all and has certainly helped me ease into the new culture and community while enhancing my experience. 

We had been advised since day 1 to be safe and stay in groups if possible. However, I gathered the courage to take a quick walk around the area by myself recently and saw a few things I had definitely not paid attention to in the last 2 weeks. I saw the local mosque and the very large Muslim community nearby. I saw a soccer field with an absolutely mesmerizing view of table mountain, my constant favorite since the day I got here. 

I also saw a water collection site. Capetonians are constantly reminded of the water shortage and ways to conserve water. A laminated reminder sheet in our apartment bathrooms reminds us to take 2-minute showers and to not flush after every use. "If it's yellow, let it mellow" has been the nudging phrase. Having water readily available in Philadelphia as well as New Jersey, where I am from, it has certainly been a challenge to get used to the various ways residents and visitors are advised to conserve water. The rains in the last month have helped with the drought tremendously but the practices continue where we try to limit our water usage on a daily basis and eventually become used to it. Back to the story now. So I saw a site where people were lining up with large water bottles to collect spring water. I had only heard of people doing that as the organization we are staying with provides us with running hot and cold water in the accommodation and my internship site is no different. However, seeing people drive to the collection site, and stand in long lines to collect water was certainly an eye-opening experience. It made me realize of the many blessing we may take for granted and be wasteful of, blessings which others have to work very hard for. 

Apart from that, last Friday was Eid-al-Fitr (marking the end of the month of Ramadan) and it was my first Eid away from home. I spent the day with some of the other Penn students eating and exploring the city. (Side note: the large Muslim community in Cape Town helps with the availability of halal food almost everywhere you go.) We explored the District 6 museum, which houses memories of the mixed community of freed slaves, laborers and immigrants in Cape Town who were forced out of the district to declare it a White only area in 1966. Eid away from family and friends, where I still only know a handful of people well enough was another experience very much out of my comfort zone but has allowed me to become more confident and comfortable with change. I certainly look forward to more adventures in this very welcoming and beautiful city!

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The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce. Placements and funding awards are available.