What It’s Like Interning In South Africa

Sophia Metzger, a rising junior at the Kelley School of Business, takes in some sight-seeing at Boulder Beach during a summer internship in South Africa. Courtesy photo

While some classmates aspired to travel to New York, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Wall Street or other well-known business districts for their summer 2018 internships, Sophia Metzger — a rising junior at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business — had a destination in mind that was far more out of the ordinary. The home of Nelson Mandela, apartheid, mass inequality, and social injustice: South Africa.

Her thought process?

“Don’t be afraid to go against what you think you’re supposed to do or what most people are doing and to find value in the overall life lessons you’re going to take away from a country such as South Africa,” she says.

‘I CONSIDER MYSELF RISK AVERSE SO I KNEW THIS WOULD BE INTERESTING’

To be precise, Johannesburg, South Africa is where Metzger spent the last eight weeks as a consulting intern for Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, a digital entrepreneurship incubator for students, working professionals, and unemployed youth. In her consulting role, she was tasked with boosting engagement to get university students in the area more involved and interested in the innovation precinct. She chose to work with a digital innovation firm because it was an area — much like South Africa — that was foreign to her.

“I really wanted to put myself in a new space,” says Metzger who is studying finance and law, ethics, and decision-making along with a minor in sociology. This is her second internship. The first being last summer’s role as a business operations intern with a tennis club in her hometown. “Digital innovation and entrepreneurship was something I didn’t have a lot of experience with,” she continues. “I consider myself pretty risk averse so I knew this would be really interesting.”

GETTING TO KNOW SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENTS

Her expectations were spot on. As part of their job to create a student activation campaign, Metzger and two other student interns from the University of Notre Dame and McGill University in Canada conducted surveys and focus groups with their target audience.

Inside Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, a digital entrepreneurship incubator in South Africa where Sophia Metzger interned this summer as a social impact consultant. Courtesy photo

“Most of them were on holiday break so we’re really grateful to the few brave and generous souls who gave up their time to meet with us. It was so cool just to hear how university life is so different here,” Metzger tells Poets&Quants for Undergrads in a phone interview from South Africa. “Still, we have so much in common. Being able to hear about the passion they have for entrepreneurship was just incredible. In the U.S. — because of the pressure to find a job — entrepreneurship is seen as risky. Here, it’s seen as even more risky. One person had multiple failed businesses and a lot of friends and family didn’t support her, but she was ready to go start a third.”

Metzger cites these interactions with South African undergraduate and post-graduate students as the most memorable part of her summer internship. But there were other key takeaways and lessons learned about the consulting career she intends to launch once she finishes Kelley.

LEARNING THE JOB OF A CONSULTANT

“Going through the projects, I was able to gather the true value of what a consultant is and that’s an outside perspective,” Metzger says. “I’m a consultant, I’m not interning for this company. Once I realized that, I was able to add value.”

Likewise, Metzger says this summer’s internship was crucial in teaching her how to be a young professional in a setting where she doesn’t have much experience, yet having to learn the value in speaking up for herself. “Structuring that in terms of my future, this is so important in a consulting role,” she says. “As a consultant, you come in as someone from the outside and engage with someone who’s been doing it for 30 years. Speaking up in a way that’s professionally appropriate for the setting is really critical. It’s the only way to provide value in the end.”

Another factor was learning how to manage expectations. “Managing my own expectations and adapting quickly when they change,” she says. “Also, managing the expectations for a client and having to speak when something they want is not feasible. I used to be timid growing up, so if you told me I’d have to tell my boss what they wanted wasn’t possible, I would’ve freaked out.”

BEST ADVICE FOR INTERNING ABROAD: LISTEN UP!

As far as interning abroad goes, Metzger’s advice for other students includes getting to know the culture of the region and its effect on business practices.

“A side project I worked on was creating a contract for an incubation program at the precinct,” Metzger says. “Currently, there’s poor attendance and sometimes poor behavior during events. I was tasked with creating a contract to serve as a code of conduct for incubation members to sign so they know what’s allowed and what’s not.

“This is where I learned a lot from the international context. There were so many external factors to keep in mind such as is this contract readable? The education system in South Africa isn’t that great. It doesn’t take much to become a teacher and people get passed on to other grade levels very easily so you have people moving up in grades and maybe not really ready. When writing this legal contract, I had to make sure it was easy to read and not filled with legal jargon. Learning to seek all these insights and turn them into a recommendation for this company was really important.”

To this end, Metzger’s advice to others who may find themselves immersed in a foreign country for an internship is to take the first couple weeks to simply listen and ask as many questions as possible. “It’s easy to come in and think you can find a solution, but without understanding what life is like, the culture of entrepreneurship here, you’re not going to be on the right track and ask the right questions.”

Page 1 of 2