This summer, Ph.D./MSW student Sara Pilgreen shares postcards from Johannesburg, where she is living and working.
As my days came to an end in Jo’burg I just could not believe it. Very similar to the feelings of completing my first year internship at “The Village” in Long Beach, the incredible journey that began only 11 weeks prior was coming to a screeching halt. Even though I have been well versed in the “termination” stage of ending relationships and internships, and had been reminding all of those with whom I had been working with and more importantly with my host family of the date of my departure, it had not really sunk in with myself. The last there weeks of being there was a complete whirlwind. Trying to complete my final paper, “What Does the Right to the City Mean for Johannesburg’s Poor,” to getting in any last minute sightseeing activities, as well as farewell dinners, lunches, and the like was a roller-coaster ride of emotions. So glad for the experiences that I had had, so saddened at the thought of saying goodbye.
It is always striking to me how no matter where in the globe one is there will always be the human similarities of family, friendships, food, and fun. How it does not matter if one is a Muslim, Christian, or Atheist, the connections and bond each can form with one another are what is most important in life. Having had the experience of living with the most accommodating, awesome family I could have ever dreamed of allowed me an insight and perspective of what life is like for one South African family. My internship work was very important and the hours upon hours that were spent at “The Council” helped me in the formulation of ideas and shaping my perspective of macro social policy; however, things did not really connect until I went home each night and had conversations over dinner of what politics, policies, and the reality of day-to-day life meant for South Africans.
My time in South Africa saw snow sticking to the ground in Johannesburg, sunsets that can only be seen in Africa, the celebration of Nelson Mandela Day, Women’s Day as a public holiday, experiencing Ramadan and Eid in the township of Lensasia, numerous trips to Soweto, Durban twice, and Capetown. Working in the local government on issues that I care about tremendously was the added bonus but most of all an experience of living with a family and the realization that all of us on this planet are so much more alike than we are different. The work at “The Council” that I was able to accomplish, the learning that happened, the exposure that I received of how government policy is formulated, far exceeded any of my expectations of what a summer internship could be. I am so thankful for my internship in Jozi (Johannesburg as the locals refer to it) at “The Council” as it was most definitely an experience to remember but one that will surely influence my future studies in macro social policy.