“Is it safe?”
It was not a question I could confidently answer prior to setting foot on Zimbabwe as I also had preconceived notions of African countries, which were heavily shaped by mainstream media as well. Deciding whether to accept the internship was one of the toughest decisions to make, especially when I found out that a few candidates who were offered the opportunity chose not to accept out of safety concerns.
So is it safe? It depends. Zimbabwe was safe enough for me to walk around myself. However, as with any other countries, including Singapore, there are places and times where crimes tend to occur. The key is to understand the local geographies (talk to the locals!) and avoid such areas.
“How is it like living in Zimbabwe?”
My first day on the continent was memorable. Upon arrival, I quickly noticed the poor state of public infrastructure in Zimbabwe. There was inadequate street lighting, such that the driver had to carefully maneuver to avoid potholes on the roads. When I arrived at my accommodation, my housemate nonchalantly informed me that the electricity cuts for the evening had just started.
Exposure to different environments helped me understand the world in a way that no classroom ever could. The experiences from my stay in Zimbabwe provided a different lens to put things in perspective when I look at economic, social and political issues in Singapore and beyond.
“What is work like in Zimbabwe?”
One stark difference between my internship experiences in Zimbabwe and Singapore, is the pace of work. In Singapore, we focus on productivity – getting the work done faster and cheaper. But in Zimbabwe, people generally work at a more relaxed pace.
I spent some time working in the Accounts department of the company. While I could apply some knowledge that I picked up in my accounting modules, there were some nuances due to local regulations in areas of reporting and tax. It was an apt reminder that university classes can only take us that far and we will need to adapt our knowledge to real life scenarios across geographies and time.
“How are your colleagues?”
Zimbabweans are very open to new ideas and willing to learn. My colleagues were quick to pick up Excel tricks that I shared with my department. Some even went on to revamp their work processes to make better use of the software! I especially admire their thirst for learning – even after I returned to Singapore, some former colleagues still drop me emails to clarify certain Excel functions!
Zimbabweans are highly hospitable, ever willing to share their languages, traditions and cultures. They eagerly showed me the sights and sounds of Harare, their capital. On weekends, they took me along to support the company’s soccer team. At work, they generously imparted their knowledge to help me better understand Wilmar’s operations.
Zimbabwe was my first experience working in a foreign land and it was intimidating at first to be the minority in the office. But after interacting with my colleagues during my 10-week internship, I find that we are different but yet the same. We all have aspirations – be it to excel at work, career progression or even just being contented. We all look forward to go home after a day of work to be with our loved ones. We all want peace and prosperity in the communities we live in.
“Why did you choose Africa?”
When I applied for the Wilmar internship, I could pick Southeast Asia, China or Africa. With an adventurous mindset, my first instinct was to go for the unchartered waters. From a more practical perspective, with 60% of the world’s unutilised agricultural land and a largely untapped consumer market of 1 billion people, Africa has great potential to be the next frontier of our global economy. It is a market where companies will have to enter sooner or later and having exposure to the continent will be valuable.
However, I believe most people avoid Africa out of fear. Perhaps the approach is not to avoid the perceived dangers of Africa altogether, but we should weigh the risks against the opportunities that Africa will bring. I believe in a world where change is the only constant, the riskiest thing to do is to not take any risks at all.
Contributed by: Ong Wei Chang (ACBS Year 4)