Double Major Interns at South African Shelter for Women and Children

Neuroscience and psychology major D’anna Sydow completes internship in South Africa.

A neuroscience and psychology double major, D’anna Sydow ’20, spent her summer as a clinical psychology intern at the Ihata Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Cape Town, South Africa. 

“I studied abroad in London my sophomore year, and I thought that would be my only international experience in college,” she said. 

Motivated by her previous time abroad, Sydow started researching summer clinical psychology internships online and discovered a website with European opportunities. However, she wanted to explore a new part of the world and continued looking until she found the internship in Cape Town. When Sydow received her offer after a competitive interview process, she committed almost immediately anticipating the endless possibilities and experiences. 

To help with the costs associated with international travel, Sydow applied for and received financial support through an Arnold Grant for Experiential Education, an award given to students to pursue independent research and internships. 

“I never realized an international internship would be possible, but it turned out to be the most immersive and rewarding experience I’ve had,” she said. “Many internships are restricted to shadowing a professional and attending meetings, but I was able to facilitate groups and perform assessments and counseling on my own.”

While in Cape Town, Sydow met individually with clients, coordinated group therapy, conducted biopsychosocial intake assessments, and developed a therapeutic curriculum that the shelter could continue to use after she returned to the United States. Sydow added a touch of her personality to the daily exercises she led including incorporating dance as a coping strategy. 

“Facilitating my first group session ended up being one of my favorite memories from the shelter,” she said. “They spoke about why they were proud of themselves, and I taught them about mindfulness and introduced dancing for exercise. It was easy to tell how much fun the women had dancing and how eager they were to learn some coping strategies.”

Establishing those connections with her clients are some of her favorite moments from her internship. 

“I had a client who came to the shelter about the same time I did,” she said. “It was incredible seeing her from the start and watching her transform into the person she is now. It was so humbling knowing I was able to help her in that self-discovery.”

The skills Sydow used in her internship resulted from the strategies and research techniques she learned through her classes. 

“My classes taught me a lot about human behavior and allowed me to understand the possible difficulties my clients were dealing with,” she said. “They also helped to teach me how to properly conduct research to find information that I could apply during my work each day.”

As she begins her senior year, Sydow will take the lessons gained from her internship and apply them to her remaining courses. 

“By working at Ihata, I gained valuable experience in taking process notes, active listening, and group facilitation,” she said. “Additionally, the interactions with women and children at the shelter enabled me to understand some of the difficulties they face. This, in turn, will help me have a better understanding when talking about trauma, anxiety, and substance-use disorder, and learning about nonprofits.”

After graduation, Sydow plans to attend graduate school to study clinical psychology and ultimately become a neuropsychologist. 


- Parker Gallagher, LVC Marketing & Communications Assistant