VA Corps provides hands on experience in South Africa

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Students of Pacific’s School of Occupational Therapy are taking advantage of the opportunity to intern in South Africa with the help of Volunteer Adventure Corps.

The VA Corps is a professional internship program that customizes internships in Cape Town, South Africa. The program places former and current students of all majors and all schools with companies that best suites their needs, skill level and area of interest.

Areas of study include but are not limited to pre-medicine, dental health, physical therapy, occupational therapy, education, politics, social work, marketing and communications, media studies, journalism, dance and choreography, civil engineering, sustainable energy and finance professions.

Pacific Occupational Therapy professor Sandra Pelham-Foster initiated the university’s relationship with VA Corps three years ago because of the opportunities arising in South Africa. The country has become a destination for international business and tourism and increasing humanitarian efforts.

Interns usually stay in Cape Town for two to three months, but have the option to go for one to six months.

The program arranges an internship with an appropriate company, locates housing accommodations that will best suit the intern’s needs and budget and provides a cell phone for use during their stay.

While in Cape Town, interns have the opportunity to participate in community service projects, language classes and organized excursions into the city and the surrounding areas. VA Corps team members are available 24 hours a day to provide any needed support for interns.

VA Corps owners and Cape Town residents Oliver Hagan and Sean Walpole, can personally attest to the benefits of international experiences. Hagan, a University of Oregon graduate, interned in South Africa as a student and described it as his most memorable learning experience. He and Walpole met while studying abroad in Cape Town during college. Hagan is passionate about sharing the opportunity to have a positive and memorable overseas experience with students and aspiring professionals.

According to Walpole and Hagan, international internship experience impresses employers and builds character and skills students can’t get from a traditional classroom setting.

“Get on a plane,” Walpole recommended to students. “Keep an open mind. Go there and just wait for it to unfold.”

According to Pelham-Foster, international experience is so important for  occupational therapists “because they have to understand the culture from which a patient comes before you can treat them.”

Pelham-Foster said students’ internships abroad allow them to appreciate the facilities and living standards in the U.S. and helps them to adapt to challenging and unfamiliar situations. She thinks the experiences students gain in Cape Town help them treat patients they encounter in all settings.

“We’re all people. We all want the same things, but we all have different things to contend with our lives,” said Pelham-Foster. “It gives them a sense of understanding.”

Interested parties start the process by filling out an online application. A company employee then begins correspondence with the interested individual, asking and answering questions and discussing the internship opportunities. If the staff members determine the applicant is qualified to intern in South Africa and is a good fit for the program, a professional begins searching for an appropriate internship site.

The program fee is $1,650 and does not include airfare, housing costs, personal expenses for food and recreation, private transportation or traveler’s insurance.

Walpole and Hagan recommend applying for positions four to six months in advance, especially if the applicant intends to go during the summer.

For more information, detailed site descriptions and to apply, visit


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