Caitlin Barán: "My Traineeship in Benin has been One of the Most Amazing Things to Ever Happen to Me"

For internships and traineeships, most students look to companies within the same city or at least the same country where they are studying. But this week, we talked to Caitlin Barán who is currently living and working in Benin, West Africa. Read on to learn about her experience moving to Benin, the best things about her traineeship, and her tips for how you can get the internship of your dreams!

What made you decide to apply for the traineeship in Villa Karo?

When I was 12, my father, who is an artist, was a scholarship holder and resident at Villa Karo, the Finnish-African cultural center and artist residence in Grand-Popo, Benin. When he returned, he had many wonderful stories to share about this absolutely breathtaking seaside community in West Africa. Since that time over thirteen years ago I have been thinking about Benin and Grand-Popo, and wanted to experience something like that as well. Before, the time had not been right, but last fall I finally decided to send in my application to be a trainee here.

How have your studies prepared you for the traineeship? What’s been the hardest thing about the job?

Well, the most important thing related to my studies is definitely the fact that I’ve done film and television studies as my minor, as I’m in charge of the program for our film nights every Friday. When I started working, the first thing I did was organize the films in a proper order! Also, as an English major, I have studied a lot of literature, which is useful when I manage the library of the cultural center. Working in a museum as a teenager and organizing a big art exhibition at one of my previous workplaces, as well as organizing an insane amount of events and parties for my student organization have also proved to be useful. I’ve done a bit of freelance translation work before, but here as the only Finnish member of the staff I am constantly translating and interpreting back and forth from French to Finnish; quite literally all the time. The hardest part of the job so far has been getting used to translating everything that is going on!

Being outgoing and talkative is also an asset – talking to a vast amount of different people about whatever they wish to discuss is a huge part of my work here.

Has it been a culture shock moving to such a different environment, in terms of culture, language and even climate?

Yes! I have traveled in over 30 countries in my life and lived abroad, and things like this have never really affected me before. It took me by surprise. After my first meal in Benin I got food poisoning and was really ill for several days, and I even had to visit a doctor in a nearby village because of my high fever. To be quite honest, I wanted to return to Finland right away! I’m really happy I stayed, though. The fact that everyone speaks French here brings me comfort, as I have lived in France as a child and the language feels natural to me. I’m worried that I’ll soon forget how to speak English! It’s difficult to describe the people here. People are so friendly and polite, and care about others - even complete strangers - in a way that I’ve never experienced anywhere in Finland, or Europe for that matter.

What have some of your best experiences been in Benin so far?

At times things are just so absurd here. The other day I got to model for a local clothing brand by accident. My neighbor invited me to come see a photographer take pictures of some clothes designed by one of her friends. The next thing I know, I was posing on an old rusty bridge over the river dressed in traditional West African clothing in front of a professional French photographer, completely baffled as to how I had ended up there. I am also a huge fan of coconuts, so on another really hot day my friend climbed a palm tree and offered me as many coconuts as I wanted, even cutting them open for me. Also, the beach is 100 metres away from my home, and even though swimming is too dangerous due to the strong waves and furious current, just walking along the beach and feeling the ocean breeze is amazing enough. Naming just one thing is impossible!

Your life right now sounds like the coolest thing. Any tips for people looking for an equally cool traineeship or other opportunities to go abroad?

I suggest applying for all the cool traineeships you spot! I didn’t expect to be chosen for this one, but here I am. This has already been one of the most amazing things to ever happen to me, and I’m not even halfway through the traineeship yet! You can apply for the program through CIMO starting on February 14, 2017. If you speak French and are interested in getting to know the fabulous seaside town of Grand-Popo, Benin, I strongly suggest you apply! You get to befriend a bunch of extremely talented and awesome Finnish artists, as well as the locals, who are some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet.