South Africa - Nutrition

A New Life in South Africa

south africa georginaWe mean it when we say an ELI Abroad internship can change your life.

Just ask Georgina. She spent 3 months interning in Cape Town. And in the end she got a job offer and placement in a top-ranked PhD program.

This outgoing Spaniard from Barcelona is ready for the challenge.

“From almost the first moment, I felt at home in South Africa,” Georgina remembers. “I come from a cosmopolitan city, so I was very comfortable in Cape Town, where you see people from all over the world. And everyone was so welcoming.”

Georgina’s internship arranged by ELI Abroad was likewise an excellent fit. With her experience as a Pharmacist, Master’s-level studies in Clinical Nutrition and Global Health and a growing interest in diet and nutrition, she was a perfect candidate for the prestigious Noakes Foundation. This world-famous organization focuses on evidence-based research into the benefits of a low carb, high fat diet, and Georgina’s work there was both academic and practical, including research where she conducted weight and blood tests and helped to create educational presentations. She even wrote for the Foundation’s blog.

“It was exciting to be at the center of research on nutrition and community intervention,” Georgina says. “I worked with groups of people, mostly women in vulnerable situations, many of whom suffered from hypertension, metabolic irregularities, obesity, diabetes -- disorders mostly related to diet full of carbs and processed fast food.”

Was it difficult to adjust to working in such a different setting?

“The culture of South Africa isn’t so rush-rush-rush as in Europe,” Georgina admits.

The pace was different, and so was the vibe.

“I’m a planner, so at first I had to get used to just seeing what happens, and take it as it comes.”

It’s a balancing act many interns have to learn. On one hand, interns should be self-directed and have ideas on what they’d like to accomplish. On the other, it’s crucial they remain open to new experiences and not be limited by their expectations.

“There’s always plenty to do, so it’s not like the work was slow. It was just relaxed,” Georgina laughs. “I didn’t really have a regular schedule, there was no 9-5, just things you had to get done. But it didn’t matter if you did it at the office. There are a lot of cafes with wifi where people do their work.”

During her internship, Georgina lived at the YMCA in Cape Town’s Observatory neighborhood, an area popular with students, young professionals and international travelers. She was cognizant of security issues and crime, two problems many tourists face in Cape Town, although as a well-traveled woman used to city life, she took them in stride.

“Most places in Europe and US are safe. In Cape Town there are a few places to avoid, rules to follow -- such as not walking alone at night -- and during the day being aware of pickpockets.”

In most other ways, however, Georgina says Cape Town is “a city like a lot of others, except with this very unique mixture of Western Europe and Africa. Everyone told me I wouldn’t want to leave, and they were right. When my internships was ending, I started to get sad.”

That’s when Noakes - impressed by her work and passion - unexpectedly offered her a job, and then the opportunity of a PhD position at the University of Cape Town. This winter Georgina will do a preparatory course there, and begin her doctoral studies in September 2018.

“It’s amazing that it all fell into place like this. I feel lucky to love what I do, and to find such generous supporters and colleagues.”

ELI Abroad can’t promise you’ll find a job and get into graduate school as result of your internship. But we can promise you an adventure you’ll remember forever.

Any advice for future interns, Georgina?

“If you’re going to do it, give yourself time,” she says. “Two months is not enough. It takes a month to just get comfortable, you’re not fully ‘there’ that first month. Months two and three are great and you’re learning a lot and having an impact in your internship. So, I’d say, ideally go for four months. By then you might be ready to return home.”

Of course, for Georgina, home now includes Cape Town.

“I can’t wait to go back.”

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