“Online learning brings education home:” Lebohang Lepota’s experience as a NEXSTEP intern

NEXSTEP is an experience-based exchange program. As a company, they provide both study and internship experiences, partnering with global organizations. More recently, NEXSTEP began offering virtual internships. This expanded program means that they are able to reach more students and young professionals, building a network of working relationships across the globe.

NEXSTEP partnered with Botho University to offer students at the university the chance to participate in virtual internships with companies based primarily in the APAC region. Botho University is an African institution based in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini that offers both on-campus and distance-learning education. They are particularly committed to preparing their students for the job market post-graduation. With that, the partnership with NEXSTEP was a perfect fit.

We had the chance to speak with Lebohang Lepota, a student at Botho University who took part in and completed her internship with NEXSTEP. 

Lepota studies computing and is particularly interested in becoming a growth-oriented entrepreneur. In addition to her studies, she is also a livestock farmer, English language tutor, and Basic Computer Training tutor, putting her passion for entrepreneurship into action.

Confident and genuine, Lepota says of her first impression of NEXSTEP, “I understood well the benefits that came with being a virtual intern, and working with a remote company, [especially] a well-performing or highly recognized company.”

In terms of what she anticipated prior to beginning the internship with NEXSTEP, Lepota shares, “I had hopes. I really wanted to work with different company founders from the other [side of the] world. I wanted to experience a career before committing to it. And, [I wanted] to have the experience of working with foreigners, to learn how they carry out their work, which might be different and helpful as to how we do it here at home. Learning something from them would also mean identifying my area of self-improvement. I also needed to improve my ability to resolve challenges effectively as I continued to network globally.” All these hopes came true for Lepota throughout the internship, she told us with a brilliant smile.

“The biggest fear that I had was whether I would be able to make it through the interviews that were introduced to me because it was my first time [interviewing] with international companies.” Despite her initial fear, Lepota soon realized she had nothing to worry about. “Those interviews were nothing to be scared of. The people who conducted the interviews were very welcoming and straightforward, which gave me a chance to express myself well and convince them that I am the right candidate, who can add value to their company.”

The support provided by NEXSTEP was particularly helpful throughout the internship, especially as it was a time of many firsts. The program Lepota participated in represented not only her first internship as a young professional and university student but also the first partnership experience between Botho University and NEXSTEP.

One aspect of support that Lepota found particularly helpful was the NEXSTEP staff member that worked with the interns, Aaron Clark, who provided guidance each step of the way. This included when students had questions about interviews and placements that materialized from the internship experience.

NEXTSTEP also provided the interns with technology classes. Lepota shares that those “helped me to be able to motivate myself when the going was getting really tough or challenging.” The focus on goal-oriented work helped Lepota to succeed throughout her time as an intern.

“They would send success journals where we would write our goals and reflect on whenever we felt demotivated. One thing I really liked about NEXSTEP is that they would do follow-ups and check-ups to find out how we are still coping.”

Although the internship was an overwhelmingly positive experience for Lepota, it was not without its challenges. “There were times when you would find that you had to deliver work within a short period of time [and] you’d feel pressured, and unsure whether you’d deliver the work by the time it was required; and this feeling brought a lot of self-doubt,” says Lepota. “Then, I would just tell myself that my aim is to complete the internship despite the challenges I may encounter. Therefore, I will definitely do whatever is necessary to get the task or job done and completed.”

“Sometimes I would be so tired, but then I would reflect on [my goals] and remind myself why I started in the first place, which often made me realize that no one was going to push me, I had to push myself. I had to maintain that self-discipline to keep myself going, no matter how tired I felt or thought of giving up at that moment. Then, I  would be motivated to continue doing my work.” Lepota is an incredibly motivated and dedicated professional, speaking with clear passion about her goals and admirable determination. It is clear that when she sets her mind to something, she will accomplish it.

Thanks to Botho’s dual learning style of education, participating in a virtual internship rather than a physical one was not particularly challenging for Lepota when it came to technology. “I was familiar with using this dual environment to communicate. It wasn’t challenging [regarding the technological side of the program] because we were offered an opportunity to go to school to have access to Wi-Fi in case we ran out of data.”

The most surprising aspect of the program for Lepota was NEXSTEP’s ability to deliver on its promises. “We are living in a world where there are scammers, people that are not as reliable and trustworthy as we think, but to my surprise, NEXSTEP managed to stick to its aims and objectives as outlined in their profile and they managed to support us throughout the internship with everything that they could do, to assist.”

Lepota shared that she feels she changed on both a personal and a professional level through her experience with NEXSTEP. “Professionally, I can manage teamwork, and I am confident that I can coordinate and collaborate with managers during professional meetings. I have improved my time management and self discipline skills to push myself to do work even when I felt the need not to do that. I have also improved my ability to use technology efficiently and wisely and make sure that I avoid all sorts of destruction as possible.”

“Personally, I have confidence to collaborate remotely. I managed to adapt to cross-cultural communication and learned how to be accountable for the mistakes that I [made] by making sure that I communicated and negotiated with my supervisors respectfully and in a humble manner. And of course [I also learned] to be culturally conscious, to be understanding, honest and emotionally aware of how my supervisors felt or anything that concerned them.”

For those considering the NEXSTEP program, Lepota has some wise words. “The first thing that I would tell them is that they should not be hesitant to try new things and explore opportunities when they come. And they need to always remember that in life there’s always a new thing to learn, so why hesitate to become a virtual intern?

“The advice I would give them is that in order to make it through that internship they need to set smart goals. They need to have clear goals so that whenever the going gets tough they have something to reflect on, to motivate and remind themselves the reason to have started in the first place, then push harder. Most importantly, to be humble, respectful and reasonable at all times.” Lepota is someone with strong goals and a clear vision of how to reach them. She has set off on an inspiring career trajectory and remains down-to-earth, engaged, and thoughtful in all of her actions.

“I would also encourage [new interns] to be open minded and to always be ready to learn, to be themselves at all times, to be proactive and to learn to network with people. They should also give out their full potential when doing tasks, engage and participate a lot in activities that are assigned to them by their supervisors. Lastly, they should have a mindset to finish what they started.” Lepota’s determination and professional drive is clear.

Lepota believes that internship learning experiences are so important for students today because of their innate immersion factor, even when remote. “The most important thing about this internship is that it gives students a chance to be able to solve real-world problems, and the fact that most interviewers ask very detailed questions from whatever industry experience they may be in, virtual internships would give them an opportunity to convince the interviewer,” she shares. “They enhance the [student’s] ability to make wise decisions, to collaborate and coordinate, and to work as a team with not only the citizens that come from [their] country of origin, but foreigners as well.”

The collaborative approach and team-building were particularly valuable to Lepota. “[Internships also help [students] to gain more ideas and knowledge to give out very constructive solutions that solve real world problems. By working with multinational teams , it allows them to  have a chance to learn from one another and build global business knowledge.”

“I think online learning connects people easily, and globally, hence I managed to make connections with citizens that came from Bangkok, Thailand – the citizens of the company that I was working with. In a classroom environment I wouldn’t have had such an experience,” says Lepota.

She sees the benefits of virtual environments for education and work as important, due to the additional skills they foster, as well as the flexibility to work in your own space at your own pace. “One other thing is that online learning is convenient in comparison to classroom learning, because most of the materials, announcements, or assignments shared are accessed 24 hours per day, online. [Another] thing that I have seen is that it fosters the learners’ additional skills such as technical skills while performing work with a computer daily.”

The communal aspect of online internships and learning can also inspire communities on the ground. “One thing I have learned is that online learning brings education home,” says Lepota. “You do your work comfortably in your own space, wherever you are, without having to attend a physical class. It exposes students to a variety  of courses online, which means the would be no need for them to travel to campus to schedule courses.Online learning is flexible enough to allow a person to decide their own schedule, allowing students to study whenever it’s convenient for them – which is a different case  in a classroom where you have to attend a class with a fixed schedule.”

Overall, the internship experience with NEXSTEP was very transformative for Lepota. “The experience really humbles you. It really challenges one’s assumptions and preconceptions of the virtual work environment, together with their  beliefs and values, which affect the manner in which they understand themselves, other citizens and the world as a whole. You’ll […] gain experience; [The internship shows that] you become a well informed person as you learn how the two worlds (physical and remote) work; thus, making you remain vigilant.”

“One other thing is that every work environment, either physical or remote, has its own challenges, what can be a slight difference is just how you go about overcoming a physical challenge as compared to the one that comes remotely – which then makes you distinct from any other individual who never went through the same experience of working remotely.”

As far as her next steps, Lepota hopes to “be an employer as well, to start a remote IT consultancy company in order to showcase all the skills that I have learned and equipped myself with during the virtual  internship.” For Lepota, a key advantage of participating in the NEXSTEP program post-internship was the certificate of completion each intern received at the end of the program. “[It references and proves] that I have completed a virtual internship experience and I can be recognized as a globally employable candidate worldwide, which is an added advantage to my career. It’s going to help me a lot to be able to apply to any remote job interviews. I think I am ready to apply for any virtual  job, or start something on my own that I can work with others remotely.”

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