Bridging Academia and Advocacy: Navigating Transformative Internships While Studying: From Classroom Insights to Real-world Impact

By Nia Sullivan


As a recent graduate from the Social Exclusion Masters program at Åbo Akademi University, my academic journey provided a robust foundation for understanding the intricacies of societal inequalities. As a student transitioning from academia to the professional world, I completed two transformative internships with Think Africa ry and Amnesty International, focusing on project coordination and activist initiatives in Finland. These internships fostered influential connections and affirmed my competence, ambition, and potential. This blog post serves as a reflective narrative on my journey, underscoring the pivotal role of internships in translating academic knowledge into real-world impact.

Bridging Theory and Practice

My academic endeavors equipped me with an essential understanding of social exclusion and gender studies. However, as I embarked on my internships with Think Africa ry and Amnesty International, I quickly realized the distinct value of applying theoretical knowledge to my perspectives of practical scenarios. Understanding the circulation of constraints that prevent individuals from full social, economic, and political participation and access was influential during my internships as both organizations work with community and societal matters. Familiarity with social exclusion theories formed a solid basis for capturing societal challenges, accentuating the nuances, and nurturing inclusivity during my internship experiences. Next, I will discuss my internship experiences and my most significant takeaways.

Think Africa Journey: Women’s Entrepreneurial Program

During my project coordinator internship with Think Africa, I immersed myself in the vibrant world of entrepreneurship and social impact. The Women’s Entrepreneurial Program encouraged community members to acquire skills in entrepreneurship through insightful workshops and training. From orchestrating events that fostered economic empowerment to collaborating with diverse stakeholders, this experience honed my project management skills and ignited a passion for community upliftment. I acquired knowledge in budgeting, timelines, reporting, risk management, and defining and directing project goals. Collaboration, prioritization, and building a professional network in Finland were significant takeaways from this position. I remain involved with Think Africa, serving as the General Secretary and partnerships lead. Think Africa regularly offers internship opportunities for students of various fields. I encourage everyone to check them out!

Amnesty International: Activism, Anti-Racism, and Amplifying Voices

My internship with Amnesty International (Finland) ushered me into the realm of activism, where my focus shifted from economic empowerment to human rights and social justice. Notably, this venture emphasized welcoming opportunities and collaboration. My internship was intended as a six-month position within the activism team; nevertheless, I was asked to stay for eleven months and collaborated with the activism, advocacy, outreach, fundraising, and communications teams. My experience working with exceptional colleagues and my involvement in campaigns and outreach initiatives greatly influenced my personal and professional life. This experience enabled me to amplify the voices of marginalized individuals and contribute tangibly to advocacy efforts through research, writing activism blogs, and working with local and international activists. I remain involved with Amnesty International and urge students in the Social Exclusion Program to become engaged in their local Amnesty groups!

Unlocking Opportunities

When exploring internship opportunities, consider leveraging Åbo Akademi’s career services and networking opportunities. Consistently cultivate connections with professors and become involved in your community. I recommend researching organizations aligning with your interests, which is how I learned about my internship opportunities. It is valuable to utilize informational interviews to gain insights and to reach out to professors, mentors, or professionals in your desired field for guidance. Persistence is vital; stay proactive and be prepared to showcase your confidence and adaptability during interviews. Internships offer experience in addition to establishing connections and exploring potential career paths.


Both internships highlighted the significance of effective leadership, collaboration, and adaptability. Working alongside professionals, activists, and volunteers has contributed significantly to my personal and professional growth. Internships extend beyond skill acquisition; they shape career goals, provide networking opportunities, and open doors to unanticipated opportunities. Including these internships in my study experience highlighted the interplay between academia and real-world engagement, which forms understanding and impactful action. The transformative power of internships illuminated my academic journey. The combination of theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience has catalyzed my evolution into a proactive agent of positive transformation. I invite students in the Social Exclusion Program to recognize the potential of internship experiences in shaping a future characterized by empathy, innovation, and equity.