In May, Boston University student Lejla Huskic found herself on a dirt road lined with crumbling one-room houses in a small township in Johannesburg. She met the children living there, who were just learning English, only going to school a few times a week.
“I’ve never seen poverty like that before,” Huskic, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said. “It was eye-opening.”
Five months later, Huskic still works with the organization that gave her the opportunity to visit the South African town, the African Presidential Center at BU.
The APC is an on-campus organization that studies and supports the growth of democracy and free-market reform in Africa.
Huskic had the opportunity to meet African heads of state when she traveled to Johannesburg for the African Presidential Roundtable forum for the future of energy in Africa through her internship at the APC.
“It was really amazing to be involved in something amazing like that,” Huskic said. “I felt like I played a role in something really cool.”
Huskic, one of 18 student interns working at the APC, said she learned about the organization through a friend and applied to become an intern in the spring of her freshman year.
“It’s an internship program through BU and we get to work with other colleges that are part of our collaborative and the continent of Africa,” she said. “It’s a base for so many cool networks.”
Now in her second semester as an intern, Huskic said she has already had the opportunity to travel to Johannesburg and meet the former president of Zambia, Rupiah Banda.
Huskic, a sociology major, said international relations has always been an interest, but she never thought it would lead to interning for the APC.
“Once I started the internship, I got so much more knowledge about the continent,” Huskic said. “I feel like being there all this time I am learning about things as they happen, so it’s very real time. I don’t think I have gotten this information about Africa in any of my classes before.”
Huskic said Africa is an interesting, up-and-coming area.
“They’re still undergoing development — it’s not a very westernized place,” she said. “Researching Africa has been eye-opening. It’s a totally different type of cultural experience.”
Amrita Singh, a CAS junior, said the center appealed to her because she was interested in international relations, especially in Africa.
She said the APC has given her the opportunity to become friends with people who have the same passions on BU’s campus.
“It [the APC] has definitely helped me situate myself as a BU student,” Singh said. “Sometimes with BU being so big, sometimes I am like, ‘Where are the people that like the things I like?’ It’s nice that I am surrounded by people who I really like being around.”
Singh said her experience at APC has educated her and provided her with endless opportunities such as attending the Roundtable conference in Johannesburg.
“I can’t really capture the experience that I had there,” she said. “It was definitely a unique experience that helped me grow as a person and as a worker.”
Singh said the APC has given her the opportunity to put her interest in international relations and Africa to use in a practical way. It has also allowed her to see the options she has for her future career.
“I will most definitely will be doing something within the continent, but I don’t know exactly where I’m headed,” Singh said. “The center has definitely helped me see what I am passionate about.”
Singh said her experience at the APC has helped her to take a step further in her education by interacting in a meaningful way with the type of work she wants to do in the future rather than just reading about it in class.
“I totally appreciate being part of an atmosphere where your work and you hours are taken very seriously,” she said. “You’re not just doing stuff to put this on your resume — you’re doing things that are important.”