One of the best decisions I ever made in my quest for location independence was undertaking a digital marketing and social media internship abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.
The internship abroad not only gave me in-house copywriter experience, but it also provided valuable skills on how to market myself as a freelancer, and get used to living a and working abroad. Whether you are looking to secure yourself a job, or take a leap out on your own as a free agent, there are many benefits from undertaking an internship abroad, especially if you strive for the digital nomad lifestyle.
If you have taken up my previous advice and have a gig economy job, you will have the flexibility to undertake an internship abroad. Another great thing about the gig economy is you can come and go as you please. No saving up your four weeks leave. What you do need to save, however, is some moolah.
Internship abroad in Cape Town
Interning abroad accelerates personal growth by getting out of your comfort zone. Not only are you starting work for a new company, but in a different country! This may sound daunting to some, but the rewards on both a personal and professional level are priceless. I can say for myself, that when I completed my internship abroad, I came back a changed man.
In my case, I took up a three-month internship with African Impact. I paid roughly $4000 AUD for the placement months in advance, which also covered three months accommodation. In my view, that was great value. I would cost more for a Digital and Social Media Marketing course in Sydney, yet for this price I got:
- Hands on education and in-house-experience
- Three months rent in a beautiful beach-side suburb
- Experience of living and working in another country
- Giving back to the local communities through volunteer work
- Travel to other parts of Africa
Invaluable personal and professional experience
I had an apartment in the beautiful beach-side suburb of Fish Hoek, which I shared with another intern from England, Dominic. One of the areas in which I experienced growth was learning to live with Dominic; A lovely guy who meant well but was significantly younger than me at 22 years old. I was 37… yep, it’s never too late to do an internship! I got my inspiration from Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in the movie The Internship.
Dominic wanted to go out and drink a lot, which is pretty typical for a 22-year-old abroad and I do not blame him. But at my age and stage of my career, I was there to learn and gain new skills. However, Dominic twisted my arm (which was quite easy TBH) to drinking at a local bar, Papa Joe’s, which catered for blacks. I remember the first night we walked in there; every head turned towards us, incredulous that two white men would be brave enough to drink in Papa Joe’s. Most nights, Dominic and I were the only white fella’s in there. However, they eventually loved the random Pom and Aussie drinking in their local bar and even became friends with the owner.
Dominic had a stutter but loved to talk. Not a great combination. As such, I had to practice patience., which was good for me. Dominic also had an uncanny talent for breaking things. It seemed almost everything he touched turned to shit. It wasn’t long before I realised our bond might be in jeopardy.
It all came to a head when Dominic locked himself inside his bedroom in the middle of the night. I woke up to banging and screaming. He had pulled the doorknob off and locked himself inside his bedroom. Only Dominic was capable of such a thing. After trying everything to jimmy the door open and Dominic becoming evermore claustrophobic and panicked, I kicked the door down. And it’s not like in the movies where the door bursts open after one kick. It took several attempts and hurt my foot. And when you’ve been up for most of the night and have to go to work with little sleep and a sore foot… well, suffice to say, I snapped at Dominic a few times at work that day, all much to the amusement of fellow work colleagues.
In the end, Dominic and I had some challenging moments but also many great memories together, including exploring Cape Town, volunteer work in the townships of Khayelitsha and Red Hill with orphaned children, and tasting top-notch but cheap as wine in the beautiful Constantia wine valley. We even got invited to a party inside one of the townships of Masiphumelele. Again, we were the only white people there. When we told African Impact, no one in the office could believe that we went to a party inside a township.
Gain new skill-sets with an internship abroad
During the course of my internship, I gained invaluable new skills and work experience.
Such skills gained included:
- WordPress – setting up and optimising web pages
- Social media marketing – including use of Hootsuite, Schedugram and Bitly
- Search Engine Marketing – Google Ads
- Search Engine Optimisation – SEO (especially handy for a copywriter)
- Blog writing – including keyword research
- Basic video editing
- Basic graphic design
By the end of the internship, I had significantly upskilled which I used towards my own freelance business. And, although I wasn’t actively looking to be employed, I knew that I was much more qualified for an in-house copywriter or digital marketer position should I seek it.
Travel and exploration
Perhaps my favourite part of interning abroad was the experience of exploring another country and culture. Cape Town is one of the most interesting and amazing yet heart-breaking cities I’ve ever visited. Highlights included Camps Bay, Simons Town, Cape of Good Hope, Hout Bay, Shark Diving, Constantia wine region and of course the iconic Table Mountain National Park.
However, unlike most tourists visiting the Cape, I got to experience the other side to the city; the Cape Flats. Not many white folk ventures into these districts but as part of African Impact’s volunteer program, I got to undergo a life-changing experience. Furthermore, African Impact was kind enough to give me a week off to travel up to Livingstone in Zambia, The Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and a safari in Chobe National Park, Botswana. One of my most epic extreme sports experiences was white-water rafting the Zambezi river. I remember after our raft flipped and we were left floating down the river, the Zimbabwean tour guide casually pointed out a saltwater crocodile sunbathing on the bank of the river. Everyone got back in the raft fairly quick. The tour guide thought it was hilarious. Only in Africa.
Giving back with sustainable tourism
My favourite volunteer program was called GAPA (Grandmothers Against Poverty & Aids) which involved looking after orphaned kids in Khayelitsha. Their parents had died from HIV & AIDS and were cared for by their grandmothers. Our job was to help take the load off of the grandmother’s shoulders and play with them after school to prevent them from running amok in the streets, falling in with the wrong crowd or drugs.
The energy and excitement these kids had was special, especially considering they didn’t have much at all, including parents. The townships are next-level poverty, with the make-shift homes built from scrap materials. I’d never seen anything like it, especially not in Australia. Yet, every day these kids would rush up to greet us with big smiles so happy to see us. It was truly inspiring. And exhausting! After just running around and playing with these kids for a few hours completely drained me, but in a good way. Every night after playing and singing Baby Shark with the kids in Khayelitsha, I would collapse on my bed and sleep like a baby… singing Baby Shark in my dreams.
You get an awesome reference!
At the end of your internship, provided you behaved yourself, did a decent job, and were pleasant enough to work with, you’ll receive a professionally written reference from your manager. You may use this reference for a job interview, display it on your LinkedIn profile, or in my case, use it as part of your testimonials on your freelance website.
I hope you can see the value in and the benefits of undertaking an internship abroad. It truly was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my journey to becoming a successful location-independent freelancer.