Tag Archives: adventures in interning

Quintessential: Pasta, Palace of Fine Arts, & One Gay

When my friend Anita and I first visited San Francisco together on our shared birthday, Dec. 6, we found the perfect word to describe the city: “Quintessential.”

I took some pictures with my phone’s dinky camera, but it’s not the same as seeing these things in person.

Every time I run by The Palace of Fine Arts, I can’t believe I could possibly live five minutes from something so beautiful. The first time I saw it last year, I knew immediately it’s where I want to get married. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Crissy Field is also part of the home turf. You can just make out the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. See the bench? I claim you, future reading spot.

I’m becoming much more independent. Por ejemplo: This Trader Joe’s lobster pasta is a direct result of my boiling water! I’m also sitting alone in my apartment and am only mildly fearful for my life. This is progress.

Look out...Julia Child. (Recalling her name just now was such a challenge.)

And, best for last: One Gay.

Only one? I seriously doubt that.

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Why do I have to pay to work for you?

It’s application season for students across America. Parents of high school students are preparing to reach deep into their pockets to pay for hefty tuition bills. They might expect this to be the last major investment they make before their children are out the door for good. But they might be wrong. In today’s economic environment, even work experience is a commodity.

For example: One father bid $30,200 on an internship at GQ for his son.

During college, advisers stress the importance of internships.  There are two types: paid and unpaid. Because of the economy, it is not so surprising that internships are usually unpaid, considering how many businesses can barely even afford to pay the salaries of their full-time staffers. Employers insist that if the internship is indeed an unpaid position, students must get class credit through their university. The catch: Registering for a class, especially at an expensive, private university, can cost thousands of dollars. At USC, a normal internship would cost roughly $2,000. As a result, students — or, I should say, the students who are able to — are shelling out thousands for the opportunity to use internships as a resume booster.

Oftentimes, whether a student applies for an internship boils down to whether he or she can afford it. What I see here is a division — a class divide —between who can and cannot get internships. In the next few years, we can expect to see that the people with jobs are the ones who were able to pay to get their foot in the door. This system is eradicating colleges’ need-blind policies. Even if a financially disadvantaged student is able to get into Harvard or Stanford, or any other elite university based solely on his merits, he will be at a disadvantage getting an internship unless he can find a way to fund it.

And because jobs are so scarce, it’s especially important now that students have previous work experience to put on their resumes to have a competitive edge. Internships can determine future employment, which means it’s the affluent students who have an advantage in the working world.

Talent can still emerge victorious when it comes to paid internships. For obvious reasons, these are most sought out by students. Here, businesses will at least offer a stipend to help with the cost of housing for the duration of the internship. These types, however, are more hard to come by, and especially competitive.  The Los Angeles Times recruiter said recently that he insists upon paying interns. The downside to this is that it limits the amount of interns he can hire. Because of this, he can only offer internships in the summer instead of yearlong.

Some companies that once paid their interns are now cutting back. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contact wrote that they no longer pay their interns.

Because unpaid internships are most common, our current internship system primarily supports a class divide.

Can’t these businesses get creative and be flexible in their definition of “compensation”? Or, what about the spirit of voluntarism? Why can’t someone choose to be a “volunteer” and forgo the title of “intern”? People can spend hours volunteering and not get compensation.

Students who want an internship but can’t afford it are forced to think of ways to circumvent the system. Some students get their class credit at a community college because the classes are cheaper. If you’re like me, you hope your employer forgets all about it. That worked the first time around, because the senator’s office had more to worry about, like saving the United States from economic ruin and what flavor fro-yo to get.

This year, I may not be so lucky. One internship program at USC sounded fantastic … until I heard how much it cost. Immediately I was deterred from applying. The program matches students with companies in New York for the summer and costs $6,800 — not including airfare, food or the commute to the internship site every day. I don’t know what the exact breakdown was, but $2,000 accounted for the cost of a 2-unit class, and I’m assuming about $2,000 for housing. The rest, I’m not sure. Also — financial aid does not apply.

I’m sure some parents are more than willing to pay for their child to have the internship opportunity. After all, parents pay for private schools, private tutors and private college counselors to put their children ahead in the college admissions game. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong. They want the best for their kids, and it’s unfortunate that paying exorbitant fees is what it takes to get the best for them.

I have hope that merit still means something regardless of how much you can pay. I hope that one day there will be a more efficient internship system that realizes not every student can pay thousands of dollars to learn valuable work skills.

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I’m not a child, not yet a professional. All I need is time, a moment that is mine…

Interning is like repeating middle school all over again. Everyone knows you’re in this weird limbo stage between being a student and having a career.

It’s also like that sappy Britney Spears ballad: “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.”

I’m not a child, not yet a professional.

Since I’m barely legal and barely five feet tall, I could have passed for a junior high intern. Luckily, if anyone was thinking that, they’d have to rule it out because all the other interns came from prestigious universities.

So maybe, just maybe, people would take me as a young professional. I was dressed the part. Blouse, blazer, pencil skirt. Even pantyhose.

But my illusions were soon shattered. Like a kid playing dress up, no one was fooled.

While I was coming home on the metro from D.C. to Alexandria one night, the woman next to me turned and asked, not unkindly, “Aren’t you a bit young to be riding alone?”

I didn’t want to jump to conclusions and liken this lady to the one a year ago working at Costco who asked where my mother was. That time, the age minimum to sample food without a parent present was 13.

I was 19.

This new lady, though. I was willing to give her a chance. Maybe she thought you shouldn’t ride on the metro alone unless you’re at least 25.

Playing it cool, I replied, “How old do you think I am?”

“14?”

Fail.

Obviously, she’d been fact checking with the Costco woman. It was a year later, so I would be 14 now.

I bring this up because I don’t often hear people discussing the awkward intern experience. People point and laugh at interns, and blog about them, but where is the compassion, I ask?

From day one, I knew there was no getting past those red intern badges we had to have out on display everywhere, which is the Senate’s equivalent of pasting a big ‘L’ to your forehead. People knew. People judged. Our ID pictures were godawful, of course. It can’t be middle school without a too close for comfort close-up of your awkward face grimacing/smiling on the first day of school. The boys’ voices might as well have been cracking. To make things worse, the office staff insisted the interns dress up even on Casual Fridays. That only further separated us from the pack. While my boss was looking cool and casual in an Urban Outfitters checkered shirt and form-fitting jeans, I looked stuffy and dwarfed by my Hillary-esque pantsuit.

There was even a blog about all the dumb things interns said and did. It was merciless.

It really was a lot like reliving middle school. Interns traveled in packs for fear of appearing unpopular. As I walked out of the building at the end of the day, I’d see other interns leaving with their Jansport backpacks and making plans for the evening:

“Hey, man. What’s up? Where are you going? What are up to tonight? Wanna hang out? Party at my place!” Frantic hand gestures ensued.

And during the day: “Hey, I’m going on a coffee run! Can I get anyone something?” That was code for, “I’ll do whatever it takes to sit at the cool kids’ table today.”

Coffee. That was another thing. I was suddenly surrounded by java-consuming young adults. As I did research at my computer, the guy next to me was downing his Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut coffee and head banging along to the electronic music spewing out from his iPod speakers. Sitting by him made me nervous. His spaz attacks were infectious and I too felt caffeine jitters. Suddenly I was 13 again (obviously not a stretch of the imagination), when the guy with ADHD behind me in class would stretch out his legs and rest his feet on the basket under my desk and then proceed to bounce his knees up and down for the remaining hour. The funny thing is, I don’t remember ever signing up for a creaky roller coaster simulator.

I can’t say I learned to enjoy researching to the sounds of Daft Punk.

Because I didn’t want to buy lunch in the cafeteria every day, I often packed my own. Lunchables. My friend brought peanut butter and jelly every day. Clearly we weren’t doing much to improve our image.

I don’t know what interns can do to get past this awkward phase. I think, like being on the cusp of puberty, you have to just grin and bear it, and hope people don’t bully and laugh at you too much along the way.

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Tough choices to make on the Hill: Vanilla, chocolate or … banana?

I hate Twitter and everything it stands for. Until now.

Finally, finally, the cafeterias on Capitol Hill are tweeting. (Tweeting? Is that right?)

senatecafes posted its first tweet today: Chef’s Table in Dirksen today at 11:30! Herb Roast Cod w. Squid Ink Linguini, Broccolini & Asparagus. For today’s date…$9.99 per plate.

So many things were wrong with that first tweet, I don’t know where to begin. (Squid ink?! Broccolini?! Rhyming?!)

What I can’t wait for are the yogurt tweets. Forget health care. There are tougher choices to be made on the Hill. We know that Sen. Snowe is on Obama’s side for the whole health care thing, but more importantly, will she top her fro-yo off with M&Ms, or just be Plain Jane about it?

See, I interned for a senator this summer. I learned a lot, but I’m not going to beat around the bush: If prolonged trips to the cafeteria meant getting out of sorting letters and avoiding Anthrax in the mailroom, I was going to go get me some frozen yogurt.

These frozen yogurt trips became a staple during the long hours in the Hart building. I wasn’t alone. I found myself surrounded by a pool of other red intern badges and rainbow sprinkles that indicated  I wasn’t the only one taking an extended “bathroom break.”

Best of all? No taxes! Because who would have the heart to make Barbara Boxer pay an extra 50 cents for her Blondie? These are struggling senators, people!

With taxes out of the way, the only thing I had to concern myself with was choosing a flavor.  Cookies and cream and banana (no one liked banana) were shoe-ins for days at a time. It was like Christmas came early when strawberry, chocolate or vanilla were on the menu. What were these cafeterias thinking? Do they truly believe that Senator McCain and Senator Lincoln are going to spring for those crazy cookies and cream and banana flavors? It seems to me they’d want to play it safe and get a standard vanilla or chocolate fro-yo.

If only the cafeterias had been tweeting when I was at the Hill. I would have known not to bother taking the four floors down to the basement if I could only get that gross banana flavor. These tweets are going to make life so much easier for America’s youth interning on the Hill.  Bravo, Twitter. And, oh yeah, didn’t Obama give a speech on health care tonight?

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