From teaching to interning

By Luleka Dlamini, ACDI intern 2016

After working very hard to complete an undergraduate degree with flying colours, the most logical step one is likely to take is to further ones’ studies or at least opt for doing an internship. But I decided to take a different path. Here I share my journey and experience of being a teacher and then interning in two different provinces.

Being a science teacher at the age of 20

All I am is because of the teachers I had. They were the core inspiration of why I decided to became a teacher and not do my honours or internship after graduating. I had realised that my teachers allowed and encouraged me to be the best in everything that I did, developing my personal motto: “my background will never determine my future.” I wanted to inspire the same sentiment to the learners from townships many of whom are going through challenges (even worse than mine). I remember saying to my late parents (who were terrified by the thought that their little girl would be teaching in a high school and stay alone in Gauteng): “I can always go back to my career, but I may never have the chance to change someone’s life”.

Some of Luleka's students

I was determined to be an agent of change within teaching and learning environment. I went from being called Luleka Dlamini to Mam or Miss Dlamini. I was also called “Kadi lami lokuswapha” and “intambo kagesi” (meaning respectively ‘visa card’ and ‘extension cord’ denoting my small size). Teaching six different classes across three different grades, with an average of 58 learners per class, was a highly challenging and demanding job, especially considering I was not a qualified teacher and almost the same size and age as the teenagers I was teaching! It was personally rewarding to be an inspiration, a role model, and possibly to have changed lives.

Interning at ACDI

Coming from this very loud and crowded environment where I had to talk and stand all day long, to a quiet and less social environment where I mostly sit in front of the computer was overwhelming and intimidating at first, especially considering that I’m a loud and very social person. However, like any other job I eventually adapted to the culture.

Interning at ACDI has been inspiring and intellectually challenging, fortunately I have received a lot of support from the team and especially my mentor, Leigh Cobban. Being involved in the GreenSkills project afforded me an opportunity to be exposed to different aspects of agriculture and the skills needed in this sector. I will admit that like many young people I had once thought agriculture was for old people who are always outside ploughing in extremely hot or cold conditions. However, I discovered that this is not the case and that there are in fact numerous great opportunities for young people to venture into within the sector.

After visiting various farms for the first time in my life (I even got to do wine tasting) and being chased by chickens, I learnt valuable skills including conducting interviews, engaging with different stakeholders, transcribing, and conducting desktop research. Within these few months this internship has allowed me to develop both personally and professionally.

Tips for those who are about to graduates

After working for almost two years now, I can testify that the work environment is very different from the theoretical education that I got during my academic years. If you were to analyse various entry level jobs within your field, you would find that they all have one thing in common: the requirement for a certain number of years of relevant experience. Not having any experience automatically puts you at a disadvantage as you would have only been exposed to theory and some field/lab work, which are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of actual duties in the work place.  Therefore, I believe that doing an internship is the best way to acquire required experience for your desired job. This is because you get to be mentored and paid while sharpening and developing both your professional and interpersonal skills.

So, what do you need to do to get that internship? One of the misconceptions that most students have is that good grades will definitely get you a good internship after graduation. However, this is not the case. There is a lot of competition out there, which means you must have diverse qualities. Simple things like tutoring, mentoring, voluntary work, community projects, part-time jobs and being a leader in group projects or even participating in a certain sporting code could make your CV stand out, thus increasing your chances of obtaining that internship.

In conclusion, I would emphasize the importance of always being purposeful about your career path. Asking yourself important questions about what you really want and then breaking it down to what you need to do to get there will steer you in a better direction towards your desired career path.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity

Image credit: Luleka Dlamini