It would seem that being a first-generation student gave me the Midas touch. Faced with the struggle of furthering my tertiary education as a child from a single‑parent home, I could see it either as a burden or an opportunity, and I chose the latter. I am the second‑born of a single mother whose only experience of university was the day she brought me to university to register. She had various goals for my brother and me and she worked tirelessly to ensure that the opportunities she did not have would become a reality for her children.
I am from Gugulethu, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. Although opportunities do not arrive there on a silver platter, a diverse cultural repertoire can sometimes be a measure of success or opportunity. As it is, people often have to move away from the townships to the city to grow and achieve success. I saw the difference in lifestyle when I had to catch a bus from my home to school. What I saw on that journey led me to become a social worker.
When I was in matric, I decided to apply to four universities to become a social worker and Stellebosch University (SU) was one of the universities that accepted my application. The day I received my student card was validation for the hard work and sacrifices my mother and family made to bring me to where I am today. I completed my undergraduate studies in social work in December 2019.
During my studies, I started an Instagram fashion page called Style Indaba aimed at changing the narrative that Stellies students only wear plakkies and shorts to campus. The page gained popularity and many students began dressing differently because they wanted to be featured on the page. I subsequently decided to change career paths, as I saw the potential of shaping the narrative. In 2020, I studied for a postgraduate diploma in marketing and in the same year, became a student assistant at the Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) Division. My experiences at the DAR led me to apply for their graduate intern programme the following year. The intern programme has allowed me to use both qualifications in that the position required advanced communication, analytical and creative skills.
Internship programmes are pivotal for the development and progress of new graduates. They aim to create opportunities and learning experiences and cultivate a sense of belonging. During 2021, I have forged relationships with SU alumni, staff and students. I am learning to be responsible not only for myself but also for others. I am part of a division that affords me a sense of belonging. Internships are not merely aimed at gaining work experience but also give students the opportunity to learn more about themselves and others, office or company culture, relationship building, and skills development. We are not merely looking to gain work experience, we are also interested in making connections, gaining social capital, and learning diverse transferable skills.
I believe companies who invest in internships attract human capital, people who are dedicated, energetic and enthusiastic to learn. Interns bring in new perspectives, fresh ideas, and ample energy. My year as a graduate intern has taught me to be visible. When I walk into a room, I become the one the company wanted, I put forward fresh ideas and different perspectives, and am mindful of being in that space. Working as a graduate intern has made an indelible imprint on my life and I will always be grateful for the opportunity.
- Viwe Benxa is an intern at Stellenbosch University’s Development and Alumni Relations Division.