Matthew Schreiber: An Internship in South Africa

Matthew Schreiber.

This past summer, I lived and worked in Cape Town, South Africa, where I applied many of the topics gleaned during my three years at NC State through my internship with the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Not only did I intern abroad, but I also undertook an independent academic scholarship in the field of democracy, democratic theory and democratic history under the direction of political science professor Dmitri Mitin. 

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) was established in 1995 with the aim of providing a “blow-by-blow” account of committee proceedings and discussion. Without PMG, there aren’t any official, publicly available records of parliamentary proceedings, and “the engine room of Parliament” would be ripe for corruption. The information my coworkers and I captured on a daily basis, was and is used by many social justice organizations to lobby the Parliament of South Africa on pieces of legislation, matters of democratic processes and social issues — ultimately facilitating parliamentary oversight of The Executive. 

My primary task was that of a parliamentary monitor. Multiple times a week I would enter into the halls of Parliament to attend various committee meetings and record presentations and member discussions. I would also collect all documents and take attendance of members of parliament and media members. The daily interaction with MP’s and Executive Cabinet members on both a personal and professional level was truly exciting. 

On top of my duties as a monitor, I honed my writing skills as I contributed a number of articles and blogs for the website on topics covering the recent elections, the makeup of the National Assembly and cabinet/ministerial appointments. I also had the opportunity to attend scholarly talks and interview leaders from the nonprofit Corruption Watch and the Afrobarometer research institution.

My professional experience gained on the ground in Cape Town was greatly enhanced through my independent study of democratic theory. More than simply for class credit, I was able to apply the readings and research conducted throughout the summer into real-world practice at work every day. During the lead-up to my departure and throughout my time in Africa, I was in constant contact with my academic mentor. The combination of international experience, professional learning, and democratic scholarly analysis was a truly immersive combination leading to an unforgettable experience. 

As a political science major interested in democracy and social justice, Cape Town was the perfect place to live because it is in the midst of radical social and political change. It was a perfect case study to facilitate my internship with democratic analysis because South Africa’s outlook is nowhere near as strong as it is in the United States. South Africa is facing one of the worst economic downturns since Apartheid, yet it still carries a lot of hope, optimism and pride stemming from the Mandela years. In fact, that sentiment was extremely evident in the confidence and passion stemming from the South African culture and people I met along the way.

I had always wanted to study abroad, but as a senior, I didn’t have any classes to take that would fulfill a course load. I began to look into independent traveling, but soon it dawned on me that I could intern abroad! Internships are important. International experience is rewarding. Why not have both? For those who are looking to go abroad, and don’t want to study abroad, I highly recommend interning or going independently! 

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