As many of my friends and family know, I am the least spontaneous person in all of man-kind. This isn’t to be confused with my lack of adventure, but lets just say I will never be one of those people who will simply waltz into any restaurant for dinner to “check it out”. No, firstly I would need to waste a ridiculous amount of time trawling though ‘Top 10’ lists and TripAdvisor reviews to find adequate suggestions, only to then pick the menu apart to decide on exactly what I was going to order, with a back up dish too of course. So you can imagine the difficulty I had in boarding my flight to South Africa with no idea what my overseas internship would bring.
Upon my arrival in Mossel Bay, I was presented with a handful of interns wailing dramatically as they said their farewells to one another. Theatrical displays of emotion have always seemed rather unnecessary to me. Even the mere mention of a musical makes me wince, so this spectacle genuinely struck fear into me. ‘What have I let myself in for?’ was the question I kept asking myself at that moment. But as I reflect back on the whirlwind month, I’d go back to that moment in a heartbeat and do it all again. Okay, so maybe it is all well and good me saying that now I’ve had some much needed rest and peace, but I do miss the madness.
Week one felt as though I had signed up for boot camp, rather than your typical internship. It was hard enough to adapt to living with 25 people, but to be eating, sleeping and working all under one roof with a lack of silence and internet took its toll on me. As the days and workload progressed, I felt disappointed that I could not produce the highest quality work in these conditions, and fearful that I would come out of the internship with nothing. That isn’t to say I wasn’t loving the work or immersing myself in the plethora of riveting discussions, the experience simply highlighted my personal struggle with lacking a functional working environment. I would say this is certainly something I do need to overcome, due to my hopes of being a travel writer, but trust me when I say this was a very unique situation. Luckily for me, I had a trio of fellow journalism interns, field specialists and trusty roommates who were brilliant support systems and kept me going.
One of the assignments that stood out for me the most during the first week has got to be interviewing marine conservationist and Oceans Research publications manager, Esther Jacobs Overbeeke. Despite a lucrative career in financing publications and a comfortable life in Edinburgh, Esther bravely gave up everything following a fulfilling internship in South Africa with Orca Foundation. As a PR student desperate be successful in the field, without compromising my passion for the environment, our interview left me invigorated and empowered.
Emotions were running high at the beginning of week two after witnessing a whale stranding attempted rescue. With professionals and rescue teams on the scene, there was no shortage of help but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough. When the decision was made to euthanise the whale with TNT, we were all quickly briefed on all the vital information before fleeing the scene. Even thinking back to this moment overwhelms me with emotion.
The rest of the week was spent in Plattenbhurg Bay to visit Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre and to go whale watching. Being away from the confinements of Mossel Bay was definitely needed, but I wouldn’t say it was much of a holiday. The days were long, the nights were freezing and the only time we had to do our work was spent cooking for what seemed like the 5,000. Knowing the writing time constraints, I managed to record every important conversation on my iPhone in order to come back to my abundance of story ideas with a fresh mind.
WEEK THREE Disclaimer: Please excuse my ambiguity on my location of the third week, it’s for the safety of the rhino’s.
Just before leaving England I remember watching ‘Schofield’s South African Adventure’. There was a particular scene where Phillip witnessed a rhino dehorning, and I could remember thinking how incredibly moving that once in a lifetime opportunity must have been. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be experiencing a dehorning also, but alas, I did. Writing about this incident came so easily to me that I was finished by the end of the day – you can read the article here.
Later on in the week we got to stay at a beautiful private game reserve where we learnt a lot about their experiences with poachers, rehabilitation programmes and eco tourism. It was fascinating to hear how the hospitality industry copes with the strenuous conditions of drought, and their attempts in offsetting visitors carbon footprint by planting local flora. The trip definitely gave me some food for thought, and plenty of new reading material – including ‘Killing for Profit’ by Julian Rademeyer.
Unfortunately our field specialist had some issues with her visa, which meant that she had to leave South Africa at the beginning of our final week. It was a real shame as I would have liked her guidance to finalise my pieces of work, but the decision was out of her control. Not only that, but the talks we had organised with wildlife photographers Peter Chadwick and Dale Morris fell through, leaving a lot of interns disappointed. On the bright side, it gave me a chance to write without being disturbed by meetings.
On our last evening, it was wonderful to see the Africa Media interns completed pieces. From photographs to short documentaries, I loved seeing how each person perceived their South African adventure, and how they demonstrated the new skills they’d learnt along the way.
For me, I learnt a lot about the business of freelance travel journalism, standing out from the rest and pitching. The plentitude of crazy moments I encountered on my journey will always be held dear to my heart, as well as the special people that helped to make my adventure. That aside, it would be dishonest of me to not highlight the issues of how the internship programmes were run. Over the month, there were a lot of issues left unaddressed, despite many interns complaints, and a lack of transparency throughout did not sit well with myself and the others. It saddens me having to address the negatives that came with my life changing month, but I feel as though it is important to highlight the cracks featured within international internship programmes that require payments. But fear not, as I will be discussing this in my next blog post – just sit tight.