Many incredible people have passed through the VACorps internship program since we first started hosting interns in 2006. “Oh the places you’ll go” is a series where our alumni share updates about their careers and life accomplishments. In this latest post, Mindy Spyker (’12), explains that her internship in Cape Town altered the trajectory of her current career path. She is currently working for the International Livestock Research Institute in Tanzania and Kenya through a fellowship with the Borlaug Institute. Network with her HERE on LinkedIn!
Please give us a summary of your career to date. What have you been doing and where do you see yourself heading?
After I returned from Cape Town, I immediately moved to Montana to work in the US National Parks for about a year. I needed to do something vastly different than the healthcare/clinic work that I did as an intern in South Africa. I was also shifting my career plan at the time, so having a year “off” to explore, hike, and be in nature was exactly what I needed. After a year in the west, I headed to Florida for a Master’s Program in Public Health. My concentration was Global Health Practice (aka. planning health programs in the developing world), and I focused most of my research and work on food security. Last year I was awarded a US Borlaug Fellowship to study women’s empowerment in livestock work in East Africa, so that’s where I’ve been the last 6 months. After I finish the fellowship I’m planning on moving to Austin, TX, to work for a couple of years (in public health) before going on for a PhD.
What were the highlights of your internship experience in Cape Town?
I think for most people actually living in Cape Town is the highlight of the internship experience. The environment is stunning, the people are wonderful and welcoming, and the opportunities for exploration are endless. I stayed in town for almost 9 months because I loved it so much.
Interning in a couple of clinics in the surrounding townships of CT was a unique experience; I’m glad I was able to see both sides of city: rich and poor; black, white, coloured, touristy and un-touristy. It was eye-opening to see government healthcare in developing world, both what worked well and what was lacking. I also helped deliver a couple of babies in the hospital… witnessing the start of a new life was definitely a highlight!
Can you share an example of how your internship experience in South Africa has aided the development of your career?
I interned at two different community health centers in Cape Town, so I spent about 4 weeks at a day hospital and 4 weeks at a maternal obstetric unit. At the time, I planned to go to nursing school and wanted to become a midwife. While my internship experience was overall good, I also realized that working as a clinician was not at all what I wanted to do with my life. I changed my plans for grad school when I got back into the US, worked in conservation for a bit, and eventually moved into public health and development research which suits me so much better. My internship experience in South Africa was essential to figuring out what I did, and didn’t, want to do with my professional career.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to future VAC interns and/or those considering participation in the program?
You need this. You need it because the important thing you can do as a youngish adult/early 20-something/pre-professional/student is to travel, do something totally out of the ordinary, and force yourself to consider who you are in a new context. Most important learning experience possible. Don’t make excuses regarding income, distance, or long-term plans. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Any predictions for what we can expect from you in 10 year’s time?
I hope to have a PhD in hand, several years more experience in global health research and development, and be employed by a university.
Also, I hope to be living within a short drive to the mountains, just a trip away from the beach, and be close to enough to a neighborhood bar that I can grab a drink with friends on a weekday night. Do you think UCT will be hiring profs in 2026?