Intern Insider: Sarah Wood’s study abroad experience in South Africa leads to interview with grandson of Nelson Mandela

The senior journalism and international & global studies major completed the interview as an intern with Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

When author Ndaba Mandela’s winding international book tour spun through Washington, D.C., in late June, it sat him in a hotel lobby across from Elon University senior Sarah Wood.

Mandela, the grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela, had just published his book titled “Going to the Mountain,” which chronicles life growing up with his grandfather. Wood, a journalism and international & global studies double major, had just begun her internship with the publication Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and she was asked to accompany her editor to an interview with Mandela.

She talked to him for 30 minutes about his book, his experiences growing up in South Africa, and what his grandfather would think about the current political climate in the country.

“Being able to interview Ndaba Mandela was the highlight of my summer,” Wood said. “I am very grateful that I was able to have that opportunity. It was a surreal experience.”

That opportunity arose because Wood had studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, during the spring 2018 semester. As an international & global studies major, Wood is required to select a regional focus and then study abroad in that area of the world. Her focus is Africa, and she knew quickly she wanted to learn in Cape Town.

“South Africa’s history had always intrigued me, so I wanted to learn more and experience the culture first-hand,” Wood said. “I loved Cape Town. The city was beautiful, and I want to go back again soon.”

She took courses at the University of Cape Town, a school with an enrollment of 26,000 students—substantially larger than Elon’s roughly 6,000. Taking courses in larger lecture halls required Wood to adjust her learning style. But the classes gave her a better understanding of the country and made her more aware of the political and social issues facing it.

Her study abroad experience ended when summer began. She returned to the United States June 17, started her internship June 19 and was at lunch with her editor the same day to talk about a potential interview with Mandela.

“My editor knew I had been to South Africa, and he had been a few times, so we were talking about our experiences and he said we should look into letting me talk to Mandela since I just got back,” Wood said. “I was able to use a little bit of my knowledge from the country in the interview.”

A week later, Wood was face-to-face with an author who had a world-famous grandfather. The story she wrote ran in the print edition of Diverse Issues and its website, where she publishes regularly. She generally writes a couple of stories a week, some of which have focused on HBCUs pushing to make their campuses more LGTBQIA inclusive, a college retreat to examine white identity and the hiring and retiring of deans and presidents.

“I’ve really enjoyed my internship so far because it has given me a lot of opportunities to learn more about journalism, and it has allowed me to meet and talk to many people,” Wood said. “I can definitely take what I’ve learned and use it in my last year of classes at Elon and beyond.”

So far, she said, her supervisors have been pleased with her work: “They said Elon taught me well.” She credits her success to her journalism courses, which have allowed her to practice her interviewing, researching and reporting skills — all of which, combined with the ability to write on deadline, have contributed to a positive summer experience.

One lesson she learned from her time abroad is that she may be interested in international writing. But she’s not entirely certain yet which of her majors she’ll pursue as a career. She hopes her internship this summer and the freelancing she does for Diverse Issues into the fall semester will help clarify what her future may look like.

But she’s realized during her time working at the magazine that she enjoys featuring writing, so if she chooses to pursue a career in writing, she said she’d look for an opportunity similar to the one she has now.  

“Everyone at my office has been supportive and helpful,” Wood said. “They have all been welcoming to me since the beginning and want me to learn and gain as much first-hand experience in the field as possible.”