My name is Aimée and currently, I am interning in Lilongwe, Malawi as part of the Masters of International Educational Development Program at UPenn. I am working with a local human rights-based NGO here and working on projects based on tax justice and gender-responsive public services.
The first thing I would like to say is that every internship is different and everyone has a different experience! So it is important not to have too many expectations and compare the different experiences people have to your own. Be open to your own experience!
It’s been just over 4 weeks since I arrived in Lilongwe to begin my internship. Honestly, when I arrived in Malawi I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never been to the continent of Africa and I was embarking on my internship to Malawi whilst most of UPenn friends had already completed their internship and were starting their final semester. It was a strange experience, as I felt somewhat alone in this experience, yet also excited and curious.
It has been a month of adjustment and learning, of making new friends, of exploring, of learning how an NGO functions. One thing that I have learnt and begun to notice is that as an intern I have to accept that sometimes there isn’t work for me to do, and that’s ok. In those instances, I have gone around the offices to the different departments and asked if they need help or if they have any documents I can read to learn more about the projects of the organization. This has meant that for the time I have been here I have done more work with the Finance and HR department than with my own project, although this would not be my preference, I think it has given me a great opportunity to get to know many people around the office and become friends with many of them. I am sure in the next few weeks I will get more work for my project and will be busy in no time.
I have been fortunate to be invited to go out for drinks with co-workers as well as go to a football match, visit the wildlife center, climb the memorial tower, visit the infamous lake, a few day trips, and many other adventures. So although I haven’t been doing as much internship related work, for a variety of reasons, I have had the chance to get to know a lot of people and enjoy this new experience in Lilongwe.
I have also been really fortunate to be staying with a Malawian family who have welcomed me like a sister to their home. I have been having my dinner with them and learning more and more about Malawian culture over a hearty serving of Nsima (The main component of most meals!).
To be honest my experience so far has had its fair share of difficulties, from my luggage not arriving with me in Lilongwe, to having some tough minibus experiences as well as feeling frustrated about not feeling able to contribute or be productive, but overall it has been a good learning curve and I am looking forward to learning more.