It is now the end of my internship with Western Heads East. The final report and the presentation have been handed in. We’re preparing for our debriefing on Monday, and having our final meeting with Delphine on Saturday. So, upon my exit, I will give the future interns and interested students some tidbits and advice that I’ve accumulated over these last three months.
First up: Your WHE supervisors will tell you this over and over again, and rightly so: learn everything that you possibly can about your community partner, their country, and culture. Find reputable literature on these topics and read about them! WHE will provide information for you to go through, but see if you can’t find extra information on your own. Visit the community partner’s program website, if they have one. The more you know, the more you’re equipped to hit the ground running.
Second: within your area of expertise, AKA the field that you want to be hired onto WHE’s team for, find your weak spots. Identify your strengths as best you can and be honest with yourself about the things you need to learn more about or practice more. You end up using a wide and semi-unpredictable range of skills in this job. Knowing your weaker spots will help you figure out what you need to learn before jumping into the task, or it will help you tell your supervisors what you can and cannot do. Being honest about your skillset is going to be more helpful to your community partner than trying to do something you simply do not have the skillset to do. (Nobody’s going to be mad at you – I promise. They’ll benefit from your honesty!)
The third thing I can recommend is patience and persistence. Ask a million questions but understand that people may be busy or may simply not have the answer. Encourage the youth with whom you’ll be working (if you’re doing an internship with YOU or SAUT) but don’t be discouraged if they don’t return the enthusiasm right away. Allow your patience to turn your excitement into an enthusiasm that will be digestible and understandable for your community partner. Remote internships require persistent communication and it will sometimes most certainly fall short, and you can’t let this demotivate you. You’ve got three months to explore yourself and your identity as part of a group – don’t feel like you have to rush, but don’t let it stop you from asking all your questions.
The fourth thing: express your experience genuinely, but there is no reason to do so with anything other than professionalism. Everybody is learning here – even your supervisors. They want to know if something isn’t quite right! If you’ve had a curious or even less-than-pleasant experience, your supervisors will do everything they can to make the situation right. When I detailed my experience with gender in this environment, Bob and I met to have a very insightful and incredibly pleasant discussion on improvements! It was great! Building up resentment is the last thing you want to do, for the sake of your emotional health and your relationships.
And my last tidbit: take this opportunity to grow and explore yourself as much as possible. It’s going to feel extremely different from school: you’re working regular hours as the expert in your area for an organization. Your work is going to have real effects. You’re going to have regular responsibilities and yet have so much time in your evenings to just enjoy yourself and your hobbies. Take this opportunity to explore the difference between industry and academia, and really think about what you like to do. For work and in your free time! School can be so consuming that sometimes we lose track of who we are. I experienced the most growth and enjoyment this summer of any summer in my lifetime, probably. I really, really hope you do, too.
Those would be my big five. This experience is as much for you as it is for your community partner as it is for your Western supervisors. You’re all learning, growing, and working together. These are some tips that will hopefully increase your enjoyment of the internship, but I think you’ll do that anyway. It’s hard not to like.
(PS. Learn how to use Canva. It’s going to be your best friend. There were very few interns this year who didn’t have to make some kind of promotional or educational materials. Canva is a lifesaver. And, if you need to do things like logo design, I would highly recommend learning how to use Inkscape. It’s an open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator, but oh boy, there sure is a learning curve.)
And here is where I sign off. Please do reach out to me! I’d love to answer your questions, but I’m also just happy to chat about the experience. Coming from academia, it can be difficult to visualize what this internship will look like, so I’d be more than happy to help you paint that picture with my own experiences.
Best of luck to you, prospective and future interns! This experience will change you like no other.
Alex D. Smith