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In search of an internship

| Thursday, March 1, 2018

Here you are — after promising “we’ll surely get a meal soon” many times — sitting across from an old friend. You are having a pleasant conversation, rambling on some light-hearted or poignant topics. Then, you are asked where you will be for the summer.

“I don’t know yet,” you scratch your head and feel burning heat rush to your ears. You sound sheepish and you know it. Unfortunately, so does your friend, who quickly responds with an unnatural smile and a clumsy sudden change in topic.

It is still three months away from summer, and the positions you’re interested in just opened up applications earlier this month. However, your reaction reveals a belief that there is something unpleasant about not having an internship — a prevalent belief on this campus permeated by an “internship culture.”

Growing up, you are constantly told to be yourself. You are likened to a canvas imbued with distinct but beautiful hues. But in college, you are pressured by a culture to cram your summers with internships: some sort of resume-builder for your freshman summer, a semi-formal internship for your next one, and finally, an official internship that almost guarantees a job offer. This culture assumes that you stride confidently in a linear career progression, with one experience building upon another. However, it disregards your need to wander, to digress or to explore different opportunities for a few summers so you know what truly fits your individualities.

Even though you had various rewarding experiences for the past two summers, they invariably hinted that your passion perhaps lies somewhere else — a blessing in disguise, you initially thought. So this year, you decide to try out another industry that has fascinated you for a long time. But soon you realize that your decision comes with costs — costs of not interning in a sequential order as the “internship culture” dictates and so, of possibly “falling behind” your peers.

Your situation points to a dilemma shared by many college students: You are told to explore and find your true aspirations before getting sucked into a career, but you also fear the uncertainty that couples with exploration. So even though you joke at those people who lock their hearts in investment banking before they know what the finance industry entails, you are unsure if your exploratory approach gives you more freedom or restriction.

Throughout your time at Notre Dame, dozens of people have on multiple occasions shared their appreciation for a Notre Dame degree. With this degree — they say — you can explore, try, fail but not be defeated. However, many students use it as a mere means to an end; you pursue the degree to get an internship, and you do the internship to get a job. Admittedly, circumstances such as financial situation and immigration status reasonably lead to our decisions to stick with a certain internship path so to secure a job early. But if you can afford some exploration, you should not be subdued by this “internship culture.” After all, when is a better time to venture into different industries and find your true passion than when you are in your 20s — when you are young, energetic and full of amazing ideas?

Flash back to your dad, a self-made entrepreneur with the benefit of hindsight. He often tells you that “struggles in your 20s can’t define you.” As a child of two mineworkers from rural China, he taught high school chemistry, operated a bookstore, served at a teahouse and worked as a salesman before starting to manage his own company. This seemingly random list of experiences do not follow any sequential order like our well-planned summers with an internship leading up to a more advanced one. But they, along the way, allowed him to understand his strengths, weaknesses, passions and values.

Compared to your dad, your Notre Dame degree almost certainly enables you to recover from failures more easily. So don’t let the “internship culture” hold you back from exploring. Whenever you feel disheartened, you think of your dad. You think of how he, as someone who could not even dream of having a Notre Dame degree, fearlessly tried. What do you have to fear?

And you tell yourself — no, you do not have an internship yet, but you are working to get one in that field you are excited about entering into.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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