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With its fishing villages, rich cultural heritage and challenges surrounding mental health, Zanzibar proved the perfect destination for Psychology undergraduate Jess Barber to add depth and experience to her university studies….

Jess, who is currently in the last year of a Psychology degree at Cardiff, secured a three-week internship last summer working in a mental health hospital on the island, which lies in the Indian ocean 22 miles off the coast of Tanzania. Said Jess: “The first step was securing funding through the university’s ‘Cardiff Award’, where I had to commit to 70 hours of activities from volunteering and work experience to CV writing and interview practice.”

Jess Barber - Zanzibar

With funding secured, it was time for Jess’s adventure to begin – and it exceeded all her expectations. “From the get-go, the people, the places and the culture swept me off my feet. My first week was a whirlwind of incredible experiences, from forming new friendships to exploring the island’s hidden gems.” She settled in quickly with her host family in Stone Town and was soon practising the language – Swahili – and learning about local customs.

But it was her experiences in the mental health hospital that made the greatest impression: “I worked on six different wards and the exposure to diverse perspectives on mental health, rooted in religion and tradition, left a lasting impression on me.

“Memorable moments included engaging in therapy sessions on the addiction ward and participating in enlightening discussions during ward rounds. Witnessing efforts to de-stigmatise mental health through improved services and awareness campaigns was also illuminating.”

Jess found that the language barrier posed a challenge but it taught her to develop effective communication skills using simple language and learning as much of the local dialect as possible.

Three weeks passed in a flash and soon it was time to say goodbye to her new friends and colleagues, but Jess left Zanzibar with a multitude of new and improved skills and a renewed determination to make a successful career in Psychology: “The experience boosted my confidence, motivation and passion for the subject and exceeded my personal goals of independence, purpose and cultural exploration.

“To anyone considering a similar journey, I’d say just go for it! Embrace the unexpected, dive into exploration and cherish the moments that surprise you. This trip was a testament to the enriching power of stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing new experiences!”

Jess is happy to chat to anyone who is interested in volunteering abroad. To contact her, please email me at and I will put you in touch.

Ros Roberts, Alumnae Manager