Stephanie Spera's iKapa experience
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
We caught up with people-oriented, culture-embracing, and a past iKapa intern, Stephanie Spera. Read what she had to say about her time as an intern in Cape Town.
4 Fun-Fact Questions:
Favourite South African food/snack?
Rusks and biltong
The seafood curry I got in Fish Hoek
Most memorable “tourist activity” you experienced while in SA?
Oh there are so many!
Taking the tram up Table Mountain
Visiting Robbin Island
Day trip around the peninsula, including a stop at the Cape of Good Hope
Whale and penguin watching in Hermanus
Watching a Springbok Rugby match at Newlands Stadium
Funniest/quirkiest/most interesting South African saying or slang word that you came across?
Calling everything “hectic” even when it’s not. I definitely brought this home with me
Describe your internship experience in South Africa using only 3 words…
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Connecticut and spent about eight years in New York between doing my undergrad
and grad school. I studied history in undergrad and got two Masters Degrees in Public
Administration and International Relations. I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona working as a State
What first inspired you / sparked the thought to go to South Africa?
I was exploring options for my international relations degree requirements and attended a meeting about a study abroad experience in South Africa. After the SU Abroad presentation, Dee, founder of iKapa Impact, presented the opportunity to do an internship through iKapa. I liked the idea of going somewhere different and combining my internship and study abroad experiences.
What, in turn, actually made you decide to go to South Africa for your internship?
Talking to Dee more about the opportunities through iKapa Impact was a definite factor in my decision. I was excited to be able to personalize my internship to focus on an area I was really interested in, and that the internship would give me practical hands-on experience. I also wanted to learn more about the culture and history of the country.
Tell us about the project that you worked on while doing your internship.
I worked with a couple of NGOs around Cape Town that focus on maternal and child health. Specifically, we worked to develop two manuals (one for mothers and one for children) to help them identify the signs of abuse, speak up for themselves or their children / friends / family / etc., and provided resources they could tap into to address abuse in their households and communities.
What was your supervisor like and how did she help you with your internship?
My supervisor, Chewe, was amazing. She was so bubbly and welcoming and made me feel not only like part of the team, but part of a family. As far as how she helped with the internship, she was always there to answer my questions. We worked as a team on the projects, and her approach was always more of using guiding questions and working as equals rather than telling me what to do. She set up meetings with different organizations and groups within the townships so I could meet the people I would be working with and get feedback on the work we were doing. That feedback was invaluable to the outcome of our survey and, ultimately, the manuals.
Did your internship influence your career path in any way?
While I didn’t end up working at an NGO or non-profit, I do take the experience with me, and it helps me make decisions in my current position based on the different perspectives I gained in South Africa. Additionally, it solidified my interest in pursuing a career path related to improving community health outcomes.
What was the all-time highlight of your time in SA?
This is a hard one, but if I had to choose one thing it would be, broadly, the people. Everyone I met was amazing, whether it was a coworker I worked with every day, a representative of an NGO, or a stranger in the grocery store. I loved the lifestyle and the laid-back-but-not-indifferent attitude; I genuinely felt like people care for each other in South Africa in a way we don’t in the US. It was refreshing.
What was one of the wildest experiences you had during your time in SA?
Probably when Chewe invited me to her home for a traditional African dinner. Her husband is from The Gambia and he made some of his home favorites, including cow hoof and fried caterpillars.
What piece of advice would you give to new interns thinking about applying to iKapa?
As I mentioned earlier, part of my trip to South Africa included a three-week study abroad portion with other students from Syracuse University, where I unfortunately worked with a lot of students who suffered from “white savior complex,” trying to provide simple explanations or solutions for complicated issues. I think the most important thing to do when going to a new place, especially one with such a complex history as South Africa, is to keep an open mind and immerse yourself in the culture, rather than shying away from things that are unfamiliar or trying to put a band-aid on issues that have existed for centuries. Real change can only happen if you try to understand the underlying issues, and also understand that those issues may not be the same as the ones you’re used to dealing with. Always be open to learning. Other than that, do as much as you can in and around Cape Town while you’re there. It’s an amazing city and a beautiful and historic part of the world.