Internships are such an important step on a college student’s path to a career. As a student, you are generally not qualified to attain work experience in a field that you are considering going into. As a result, students often obtain work experience in the job market that is not relevant to their field of interest. This isn’t to say that this kind of work experience will not have value, but it is hard to convince someone that you are capable of being an event planner, when your only experience has been as a cashier. Internships, on the other hand can often provide hands on experience in an area that you hope to work in someday. This not only provides you with relevant experience and skills, but also lets you discover whether or not you would actually like the job.
While I was an undergraduate student, I sought out any opportunity that I could to inexpensively travel abroad. As a result, I ended up learning about an internship program called Camp Adventure Child and Youth Services. What drew me to this program was the fact that they paid for your flight to a foreign country and provided you with free housing and a living stipend. Basically free travel? Tell me more! There was a catch, however. In exchange for my free trip around the world, I would need to provide services to the children of U.S. Military members for forty hours a week. The internship was seeking students who were interested in working with children as a career. I thought to myself, “I like kids. I can do that for a free trip to Europe.” Did I have any real experience working with kids, you may be wondering? The answer was no.
Luckily, I ended up being placed as an aquatics counselor and taught swim lessons to preschoolers for the summer, which I really enjoyed. I later did a very short break camp as a Day Camp counselor and realized that I would NOT have survived for a whole summer in that position. I was also lucky that I had chosen a program that provided a lot of training prior to my summer internship. I had a great summer in Japan my first year and went back for a second year in Italy, as well as the short break camp in Hawaii. I loved getting to travel with the program, but I realized that I was officially not interested in working with kids as a career.
When I graduated from college, I wasn’t really sure what to do with my degree. But Camp Adventure asked me to work for them as a trainer for their summer program. I had become a leader during training throughout my time working for them and enjoyed doing it. So I took the part time position. I soon began to realize that although I didn’t love working with children, I did love working with college students. I was so excited to prepare them for their summer internships and see them come back as newly competent individuals and leaders. I realized that if I could make that a full-time career, I would. So I started looking into the field of College Student Affairs and realized that it was a perfect fit for me. I already had experience working with college students through Camp Adventure and I felt confident that my resume matched what a university employer would be looking for.
I am now on a path with a certain destination. I am currently in graduate school pursuing a degree in College Student Services and Administration. Interning for Camp Adventure ideally would have helped me gain a job working with children. Thus, when I first graduated I felt like my internship had been a frivolous waste of time. Why did I spend so much time working with kids, when that is not even what I want to do? Why didn’t I pursue other internships? Maybe I should have. But I think why I continued to work for Camp Adventure was because of the training process. Every year I was drawn back in by the prospect of working with new interns (besides free trips to Italy). In the end, it was a perfect transition into my current career path.
I encourage students to explore internships and to find something that you enjoy doing. You may not realize the value in an experience until much later down the road. Sometimes that value might simply be discovering what kind of work you do and do not like doing, but it’s better to find out sooner rather than later.
posted by Rebecca Schaffeld, Graduate Assistant with Career Services