Maya Basak

VACorps is a popular program for gap year travelers who seek professional internship experience yet also desire an immersive cultural adventure in South Africa. Our program is ideal for a gap year student who is a confident international traveler, displays a strong work ethic, and is easily self-directed. In 2020, VACorps hosted a wonderful cohort of “gappers” and the following interview with Maya Basak, pictured on the right, from Lexington, Massachusetts (USA), will help future gap year internship candidates gain a more detailed understanding of the VACorps program experience in Cape Town, South Africa.

Read Maya’s interview below: 

How would you describe Cape Town to someone who has never traveled here before?

Cape Town’s bustling city center, beaches, and mountains provide an endless amount of activities and places to visit for young people. During my visit, I was able to go on beautiful hikes, spend days on the beach, and explore the nightlife in the city center. VACorps houses students in a mostly student area a stone’s throw from the city center in a neighborhood called Observatory. There are a lot of cute restaurants, shopping areas, and brunch areas within walking distance of the program housing. I can’t wait to go back as soon as I can!

Why did you choose to participate in an internship in South Africa as part of your gap year?

To be quite honest South Africa was kind of random for me at first. I had heard great things about VACorps and was initially concerned about being safe in Cape Town, although, living in Cape Town helped me learn precautions about being safe in a big city. It is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited! On my commute to work every morning, I enjoyed views of Table Mountain and beautiful blue oceans. I wanted to learn more about South Africa after reading Trevor Noah’s autobiography, and VACorps did an excellent job of teaching us about African culture through language classes and township tour.

Tell us a bit about the work you did at your internship site? 

I worked for a company called Future Females in Cape Town. Future Females promotes female entrepreneurship globally but the headquarters are based in the city. They work to inspire female entrepreneurs and support their success through personalized coaching, workshops, an online business school, and global events. I had the opportunity to help the co-founder create a program for influencers on Instagram, plan events, attend workshops, and run a social media challenge for aspiring female entrepreneurs. I also helped with market analysis on the global landscape of female entrepreneurship.

How did VACorps compare to the previous programs you’ve participated in as part of your gap year?

I enjoyed participating in a program with Where There Be Dragons to Nepal during the fall semester of my gap year but VACorps was a unique opportunity to be independent and live on my own in a new city with other gap year students. It was the perfect program to join after my extremely structured fall program in Nepal. VACorps was by far the best experience of my gap year.

The VACorps staff are some of the nicest and most supportive people I’ve ever met. They truly make this program what it is. They give just the right amount of support so that you feel you can safely and independently navigate a new city and have a successful internship experience. All of the gap year students lived in the same house (there were around 8 of us, but that can differ year to year I believe), and the VACorps offices were actually in the same building as our apartments. VACorps runs weekly programs and weekend excursions, some of which included cliff jumping, visiting a township, surfing, and wine tasting. All of the VACorps program participants became close with the staff, and I was always in constant contact with them. We all had to leave the program early because of COVID-19 and I dearly miss the VACorps staff and the gap year students who became my roommates and best friends.

What are the benefits of participating in a gap year program with college students?

During my stay in Cape Town, students from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign participating in the VACorps program at the same time. They were really helpful in showing us gap year students around the city and gave us advice on how to navigate the city safely. They gave us advice on how to navigate our college years, and it was interesting to hear all of their unique college experiences and interests.

Whats is the single most important piece of advice you would like to give to future VACorps interns and/or those considering participation in the program?

DO IT!! I really enjoyed the combination of the internship experience and being able to explore and have fun in Cape Town and the surrounding areas with other gap year students.

What were the highlights of your internship experience in Cape Town?

There were many highlights during my internship experience but I really enjoyed meeting aspiring female entrepreneurs in Cape Town through our events and workshops. I met so many extremely motivated and driven women. There are two women I distinctly remember meeting who wanted to create a coding program for women in townships. Future Females made me feel like an important part of their company and its success. After a few weeks, I was working on my own ideas and projects. I also had the opportunity to work directly with the co-founder who offered me a job after my internship. I may work for them remotely over the summer before college! I think this attitude towards interns is representative of most companies in Cape Town. My experience was far better than any internship experience I’ve had in the states.

Any predictions for what we can expect from you in 10 years time?

I would love to return to South Africa and continue to be involved with VACorps in any way I can. I am looking forward to bringing VACorps to my college and hopefully make it a study abroad experience there.