Internship in Africa — Where to go (given my options)?Back to Forum
I posted this on TripAdvisor, and a kind soul suggested I post it here, since I will be working abroad. Let me know if this is the correct forum to post this on.
A BIT OF CONTEXT: I feel lucky to have an awesome opportunity to do an internship in an African country this summer, for 8 to 10 weeks. The pay is the same despite of the location (and it’s pretty good, even for US/European standards — so money/costs shouldn’t be an issue.) The type of work is similar (it does vary a bit, but I have the baseline technical/business skills to make it work regardless of the specifics.) The most important thing to me is that the internship will be with a local company, and it will focus on creating social good for natives and helping the company create business opportunities and expand its operations. I am a single, straight male in my early thirties, and this is probably the last time I will get to do something like this — so, naturally, I’m looking forward to the experience! I am an avid traveler (have been to 75+ countries, and have worked/studied in eight countries.)
QUESTION: There are 100+ options, but I have selected the seven I like the most. Of the listed options, I have only been to Cape Town, South Africa. I have read about the other options and watched some videos, but I am pretty clueless about the actual experience of living/working there, and would appreciate any input that you might have. I believe South Africa would be the ‘most comfortable’ option, but that is very low in my list of priorities. I am also aware of some differences between East and West African countries, but nothing too off-putting so far. I do not speak any African languages, unfortunately, but I speak English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and some German and French.
My options are (by city, in alphabetical order):
1. Accra, Ghana
2. Cape Town, South Africa
3. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
4. Freetown, Sierra Leone
5. Gaborone, Botswana
6. Johannesburg, South Africa
7. Kampala, Uganda
I would appreciate any input you might have, and I’m also happy to answer any questions you think will help provide more context.
P.S. I plan to travel around on the weekends/remote days, and my main concern would be ‘safety.’14 Apr 2023
By far the simplest options and perhaps the best to get your feet wet in Africa are the SA cities.
This is what I did many years ago now. Of the two I would go for Cape Town as unfortunately Johannesburg is very unsafe in parts these days with some restricted ‘safe’ areas Unless you know what you are doing don’t stray too far and be careful after dark…..many people that I know carry a gun these days.
The day to day living is easier in the Cape and safer and there is no real language problem.
I would suggest that if possible you perhaps take a weekend trip to one or two of the other countries on your list perhaps Ghana were French is the most spoken foreign language. In Uganda English is the only official language spoken. Both are reasonably safe if normal precautions ( for unknown 3rd world countries) are taken. You will find much detailed info online. Flights are available to both. Botswana is close and in my opinion safe.
Good luck – you will have a great time.14 Apr 2023
Well I have been living in Accra for the last 4 years. I also travel to Freetown (also on your list) fairly often and these two highlight some of the issues you will be considering. Accra is by far the easier city to live in. It’s very modern, English-speaking, with decent roads, good flight connections, modern shopping malls, good hospitals thriving businesses, a huge expat community and pretty safe. But on the other hand, Freetown is a much more ‘interesting’ experience, in terms of contrast. Still pretty safe I would say, but definitely more challenging, in a good way for you I think. However Sierra Leone has elections later this year and that may cause some safety issues associated with the election.
Happy to take this conversation offline if you have any other specific questions re Accra and W Africa.14 Apr 2023
I would recommend Cape Town everytime its a fascinating mix of cultures and luckily it isnt blighted by the issues of Johannesburg! The only issue at the moment in SA is the incompetence of the Goverment and therefore load shedding whereby power is switched off for up to 10 hours a day to save the grid from melting down, so with that in mind maybe some of your other choices.
Like DavidSmith says Accra would be my next choice … Good luck and have fun14 Apr 2023
I would also recommend Cape Town. We live 400 kms East near Mossel Bay but visit CT every month for 5 days staying in a hotel.
It’s a wonderful city with plenty to do, especially for younger people, with great restaurants and nightlife. Internet is also very good and reasonably priced, as are data packages for mobile phones. Life is a lot cheaper there than many a European city.
It’s true about the loadshedding, but you get used to it, and depending on the stages, can vary from 2 hours a day up to 10 hours, but not in one go. It’s usually 2 hours at a time and sometimes 4 hours, but some of those times are in the early hours of the morning. You can download an app, “Eskom Se Push” which gives the schedules and an idea of how the times are. You can also buy relatively cheaply, a small UPS to power your internet when the power is down.
Hope this helps a little and do let us know what you decide in the end.14 Apr 2023
[quote quote=1355932]Freetown is a much more ‘interesting’ experience, in terms of contrast. Still pretty safe I would say, but definitely more challenging, in a good way for you I think. However Sierra Leone has elections later this year and that may cause some safety issues associated with the election.[/quote]
I totally agree. I have been to SL and Freetown on numerous occasions and personally have found no issues with safety at all. However, during the last elections there were outbreaks of violence purely between political supporters. I still felt safe but was much more wary of large groups of people. Wherever you end up, enjoy the experience.14 Apr 2023
Don’t write off Gaborone. Botswana is a fascinating and admirable country. It’s been a democracy since independence. It has a lively media and is remarkably free of corruption (apart from The Seychelles, it’s the highest-scoring African country on the corruption perceptions index). Its Supreme Court recently ruled that LGBTQ people are protected by the Constitution — I know you’re straight but you’ll feel better knowing that you’re not in a country that victimises others. Most things are decided by consensus at community-level meetings and the culture reflects this tradition of listening to and respecting one another.
The city isn’t thrilling but it’s very safe and you’ll see a model of African success that many of us in Europe could learn from. (It’s also not far from Johannesburg if you want a more exciting, but more dangerous, weekend away). Botswana is an amazing tourist destination too and you can travel everywhere in total safety: the rule of law means that poaching is controlled and there are lots of elephants, lions and other wildlife. The Okovango is one of the world’s great sights and you’re not far from Victoria Falls (between Zambia and Zimbabwe). Finally, people in Botswana are usually a bit reserved but very friendly and welcoming. They’re rightly proud of this amazing country and want to show it off. Most people speak some English and many are completely fluent (it’s the language of much of the administrative system)15 Apr 2023
Thank you very much for your input, it has been great to read all your perspectives and learn about your experiences. I’ll briefly reply to each post — I really appreciate you taking the time (:
@cwoodward: Thank you so much! I have been to Cape Town, and I really liked the city’s vibe. I did not visit Johannesburg because I was told exactly what you are saying about endemic crime. Your suggestion about traveling around with a base in SA is great, since it is ‘easy’ to navigate local life compared to some other options and it is well connected.
@DavidSmith2: Thanks! Super insightful to learn about your life in Accra. It seems that is a good place to be. Also, Sierra Leone sounds like it would be a fun (if different) experience. But considering what’s happening in Sudan, and with elections looming there, it might be wise to think a bit more about this option. I was also considering Lomé and Abidjan, but it seems that those options would actually be a bit of a stretch.
@K1ngston: Thank you so much! It is interesting to see how locals have to adapt to their circumstances. It seems that both Cape Town and Accra would be the easier choices (by Western standards.)
@LuganoPirate: Thanks for sharing! I actually did the Otter Trail when I visited Cape Town, but felt there was so much to do and so little time. That’s why I’m still considering Cape Town, even though it’s the only of the cities I have been to. Fun fact: I live in the Bay Area, so pretty much everywhere is (much) cheaper than it is in here.
@Johnnyg: Thanks a lot! I had not thought about the local political situation of each city, thanks for bringing that to my attention. Additionally, thank you for sharing your experience in Sierra Leone, it seems to be a (very) interesting place to visit.
@MarkCymru: Thank you! I have always wanted to visit Botswana, and reading about your experience has only increased my desire! While it would be quieter than the other cities, it would also be fun to make friends with locals, and avoid seating in traffic (plus it seems there are so many wonderful places to visit while not working.) I don’t know if they are analogous, but in Myanmar, particularly in the country side, I found people still have a type of innocence that you don’t really find in other countries, and I wonder if it is similar in Botswana.
I am looking forward to the experience, thank you for helping me out (:16 Apr 2023
With Lome and Abidjan, you will find it hard, even if your French is reasonable. The accent takes some adjustment and, apart from a few places, English is not widely understood or spoken. But of course, from Accra, you can drive or fly to both quite easily. A couple of points I should also add. While most of the living costs in Accra are reasonable, accommodation is not cheap in the areas of the city which would be considered ‘normal’ for expats. You need to be aware of that as it will be, by far, your biggest outlay. And all these and previous comments refer to the capital (whether Accra, Lome, Freetown or wherever). Life ouside of the big cities is very, very different. Just within Ghana, you can travel east, west and north and have some amazing experiences – cultural, scenic, environmental and historical.
Just one other tip. Wherever you decide to go, read up a little bit on the history, as well as the geography and places to visit. Assuming you are a Brit, some knowledge of the historical relationship is really helpful in establishing contacts and friends. the year 1957 may not mean much to the average Brit but in Ghana it is central to their modern history.
Good luck with your endeavours!17 Apr 2023
Thank you very much @DavidSmith2 (: Your comments are very insightful indeed. I do agree that it is very important to do a bit of research before traveling, whatever the destination. If I end up in Ghana (it is one of the two options I submitted) I will send you a message, thank you very much for your offer, that I had missed the first time around.
Cheers!18 Apr 2023
I have nothing to add to what others have said. Accra for me.I spent a lot of time in West Africa in the early 90’s including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone The Gambia, Monrovia. None of which were particularly safe at that time. But I loved the experience.
I would however suggest that you do not use the term “natives” while in Africa. It could easily be interpreted as offensive.21 Aug 2023
I visit all of them bar Freetown for work.
I would have them in this order:
I lived in South Africa for 3 years but all I see these days is crime, corruption, collapsing infrastructure, incompetent leadership and so on (resurfaced yesterday with the dismissal of the Public Prosecutor). I think there are better places to go these days and I keep any trips short and essential.14 Sep 2023