Story and photos by Margaret Connors
The experiences I’ve gained in a cross-cultural workplace and living abroad have contributed immensely to my personal growth and development, but it seems impossible to sum up the greatest part of my journeys. When I am asked what the most memorable part of my experience living abroad was, it either sparks a 10-minute conversation consisting of me pouring my heart out about my love for South Africa, or the short and sweet version: “There’s so much to tell, I don’t know where to begin.”
Here’s my attempt at finding a middle ground.
Last summer, I spent three months as an intern in Cape Town, South Africa. Through intensive and immersive work, I learned a great deal about the people living in the area, the wonderful natural beauty and geography of the country, and the economic injustice and uneven distribution of wealth and opportunity. I practiced staying professional and thoughtful while building interpersonal relationships and figuring out how to most successfully use the skills I’ve learned at the UO School of Journalism and Communication.
Before arriving in Cape Town, until my plane touched down in the beautiful “Mother City,” I was feeling what seemed to be every emotion known to humanity. I was scared, but the anticipation of working in a field I am passionate about — something I’d been preparing for my whole life — made it worth the anxiety. Little did I know that I was about to embark on what turned out to be the best experience of my life.
The Big Issue
My internship was challenging, yet essential to my growth as a journalist. I worked as a writer and photographer for The Big Issue magazine, which allowed me to travel throughout the country and attend events, meet unforgettable people and gain valuable office experience.
The Big Issue is “a socially responsible non-profit organization that enables willing unemployed and marginalized adults to take responsibility of their own lives through a developmental employment programme.” I was very impressed with both the magazine and the organization’s eagerness to create a publication that stays true to its values of helping those in need. While it was difficult being a foreigner and a struggle to adapt to a new culture quickly, it was inspiring to work for such a company alongside native Capetonians, and throughout my internship, my fondness only grew.
The reality of my internship exceeded all my expectations.
Right away, I was fully immersed in the organization and my role as an intern touched on almost all aspects of the magazine production. But my proudest accomplishment during my internship was publishing my first feature story in a magazine. For this story, titled “Falling in Love Again: Why We Need ‘Ugly’ Food,” I detailed the issues related to food waste in the country prevention techniques and interviewed Professor Suzan Oelofse, who has researched the issue at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. It was an exciting and educational experience.
Although I can speak of the tangible work I published and the lessons learned, what’s stayed with me is the memory of the people I met along the way. My supervisor, Editor-in-Chief Glynis O’hara, is an exceptional woman. After working at larger agencies and freelancing, Glynis started the first post-Apartheid colored women’s magazine. It was incredible to be working with a woman with such a background. She is intelligent, witty and professional and was eager to help me with anything I needed, small or large.
Inside the office — which was on the top floor of a beautiful old Biscuit Mill with a 360-degree view of the colorful town and adjacent train track — I learned to be diligent, to listen and to ask the right questions. It also gave me a one-of-a-kind cross-cultural professional experience.
But going out into the city to do field work was what I cherished most about the internship. Interviewing and traveling taught me to be versatile, to keep my eyes and ears open, and to not take any experience or person I encountered for granted. I truly learned from everyone I met.
The importance of cross-cultural experiences
This internship gave me a unique and unmatched experience that I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d stayed in the U.S. It opened my mind to new ideas about politics, geography, language, socioeconomic status and so much more.
I experienced a city that is more fiscally divided than any place I’ve been, a place where corruption, crime and hunger are all too common. But I also experienced more love and acceptance there than any other place I’ve been. I experienced a sense of community and respect for others, and I saw hope everywhere I looked. That’s why I can say that, without hesitation, the people I met in South Africa taught me more than I’ve learned in the previous 21 years of my life.
I learned more about critical thinking, exposed the creative side of my brain to new and stimulating ideas and learned that having empathy and understanding for other cultures and beliefs is not only important, but necessary to good journalism.
My internship and other experiences in South Africa gave me clarity in many aspects of life. It helped me grow as a person, student, woman and storyteller. Living in an area so rich in culture and diversity gave me a new perspective on life and allowed me to absorb an incredible amount of history, cuisine, stories, people — the list goes on. The experience fueled my passion for traveling, and I learned that, although sometimes discomforting, change will bring happiness. And without a doubt, I believe the best way to bring change and variation to life is through travel.
Margaret Connors is a senior studying advertising with a concentration in photojournalism. She plans to graduate from SOJC in this spring. This is her first year interning for the SOJC Communication Office. Previously, she was an intern for The Big Issue SA, where she traveled around South Africa finding stories and learning about the industry. She is eager to create ethical, authentic and passionate work to share with the world. You can follow her on Instagram @marge.elizabeth and view her work at margaret-connors.squarespace.com.