“For every new challenge, I deliberately choose to turn it to my favour and rather use it as a tool for improvement,” Mabel Lum Shu, Programme Assistant, Next Generation Internship Programme (January – June 2021), WACSI.
Imagine waking up one morning to an invitation which requires that you spend six months away from home, in a country you have never been to and where you know no one. What is the first thing that comes to your mind?
You may develop feelings of excitement, anxiety and confusion all trickling in at the same time. I call it ‘conexiety’. This is what I felt when I was chosen to take part in the Next Generation Internship Programme, organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in Ghana.
December 2020 remains that memorable month for me. One I’ll describe as having a lifechanging encounter after receiving the acceptance email from the human resource lead of WACSI on 16 December 2020. It was the first of such mails I ever received. You now understand why it is the most remarkable for me. Don’t you?
I travelled to Ghana in January 2021. The ambiance of the high-class Kotoka International Airport wowed me. The welcoming immigration staff at the airport helped me immediately fall in love with what would become my new home for the next six months. Most importantly, the loving staff of WACSI who received me at the airport made me know I was at the right place.
However, being in a new environment can sometimes be extremely challenging especially when it is your first time, and you are all alone. The interesting thing is that with every new challenge comes a new coping mechanism. This was my guiding principle throughout the internship period, from January to June 2021.
For every new challenge, I deliberately choose to turn it to my favour and rather use it as a tool for improvement.
Just like any new experience, first days are sometimes a little uncomfortable. Coming from a purely science background with little or no knowledge about the civil society sector already felt like a ‘chick with just one leg.’ The idea of being handicapped toyed around with my psychology, pushing me to believe that I would not make it.
I therefore needed to fasten my seat belt and if possible, put on a helmet if I was going to succeed. I can literally say that I created an atmosphere of fear for myself and felt defeated before the battle even began.
Choosing to be honest and admitting that this was a new domain for me worked like magic. There is no shame in admitting that you have no knowledge about a particular subject and discipline. It is easier acknowledging that you do not know and are willing to learn than to pretend you know and end up learning nothing.
With the covid 19 pandemic forcing organisations to go virtual, online learning is now at the top of the learning charts. This however comes with its numerous advantages on the one hand and setbacks on the other.
Distractions seem to be at their peak during online sessions. It seems like during an online session, that is when all WhatsApp messages start popping in, suddenly you remember that there was a report you needed to complete or a mail you had to send and then BOOM! The switch! You are virtually present but physically replying to a text message or chatting with someone in the room. Suddenly you are called to answer a question and you start babbling because you were not following up. Next thing we hear is “I’m sorry, I was talking to myself. My mic was muted.” That is not true. You barely heard the question. Some of you can relate to this. Can’t you?
In my case, the ability to make a conscious decision to follow up during online sessions and the strong desire to want to know more is what enabled me to focus. Taking down notes helped to increase my level of concentration as well. Whenever I saw a presentation/slide that struck me, I took a screen shot and referred to it later. Other times, while working on a report or some work that was time consuming, I will do a re-play of the recorded session to enable me get a better grasp of the subject and those points which I missed out on.
As I attended the over ten training sessions earmarked to groom newly recruited interns to be fully equipped to do their job well, I realised that my level of articulation was relatively low. This was going to be a challenge if I had to get involved in hosting meetings. The civil society diction was more advanced and interestingly very pleasant to my ears. I admired the eloquence and level of subject mastery of some staff at WACSI and whenever they had training sessions not related to my unit’s, I would ensure I participated as this enabled me to learn a thing or two from them.
I know this might sound crazy, but I participated in the sessions on Organisational Governance and Communicating Impact close to five times and every time I did, I learnt something new. It was either a new word, or a new way to handle online sessions or a new way to get participants fully engaged. WACSI has amazing facilitators. You should participate in their next online or face-to-face training sessions, and you won’t regret it.
Sometimes as interns, you are given a million things to do at once and expected to deliver within a very short period. Most at times we see this as people dumping their responsibilities on us. NO! This should rather be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of and consider it as an opening for you to develop your ability to multitask and work under pressure. To respond to such indispensable pressure, I listed all my tasks and planned my day accordingly. Guess what! It worked like magic. I was able to complete most if not all my tasks in record time and most importantly, I delivered quality outputs.
Another very important aspect is to avoid thinking that because you are with a particular unit, you must focus only on activities directly related to that unit. If you are opportune to be selected for WACSI’s prestigious internship programme and go this route, you would miss out on a lot of learning opportunities. Spread your tentacles, play around with the other units, and see where that leads you. I decided to get involved in activities of other units and behold, that turned my story around.
My last piece of advice to future interns is to consider the programme to be a pre-requisite for improvement. Tell yourself you are on a journey, and you have to make the best of it. Make use of all the resources around you, do not be afraid to make mistakes, be curious, identify those who are directly linked to your focal point, area of interest and get close to them.
The WACSI team is always ready to serve. Above all, always take out time to rest. It is very necessary. There is a saying in pidgin English from my sweet motherland, Cameroon that goes thus, “Body no be firewood.” [the human body is not a log of wood].
The paramount mantra every intern should uphold is that “aptitude without attitude has no magnitude.”
If you are thinking of participating in WACSI’s Next Generation Internship Programme that runs from January to June and July to December yearly, and you need someone to guide you through the process, reach out to me on LinkedIn via Mabel Shu, and I will be more than happy to share more with you.