Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Being an Intern (The Flip Side)

If I hadn't finally, at 26, been a few months away from starting a career (that's right, 26 and starting a career. Not 'building upon' or 'improving' or 'progressing ahead on an already brilliantly successful path', but starting.), I would've called this blog 'The eternal Intern' - really, I would've.

I've done, let's just say, several internships. And lucky for you, I'm in a wisdom dispelling mood today. Now, I'm a sneaky little intern. I'm not going to tell you which thing I learnt or did or didn't do where. I'm not naming any places I worked (or might be working) at, on account of I don't want to discredit anyone and lose my own credibility with them. And respect and stuff. So. Here we go:

Things about being an intern that you should be aware of (the flip side):

Starting out at the very bottom
You will have to put your ego aside. And you will have to do this for many aspects of the job.In India, in a lot of places (especially government organisations) they have 'chaprasis' or 'peons': people whose job entails doing errands, making chai and serving it, carrying files and messages across and so on. This is not the case in Germany. Everyone does everything here. That's the official version.

So your position as an intern is very low. Imagine a deep, mouldy well with smelly fungus at the bottom and rainbow cakes on top. You live in the slimy fungus. Now, in some companies, a few rainbow cake crumbs might be scattered your way (good quality work assignments, new things to learn, etc) and sometimes, they literally send across internship caviar - this is usually when they're short of a colleague and so you have to do the job. Except you do it for free.

Just to clarify, I have never done an internship where I wasn't respected and the people weren't really nice. I'm only talking about this in terms of the sort of work you're given. Or not given, as the case may be.

Show me the moneh (or don't)
How shall I put this: you're literally not even going to be paid a cent. I have never been paid for doing an internship (although I have earned money for articles I've written while doing the internship, yay!). And it sucks. And it really makes me think about the way interns are sometimes exploited, where doing the internship as a part of a course is obligatory and you're doing a full time, unpaid internship. How is it fair if you have to pause your student job in lieu of an unpaid one?

When you have an interview for an internship, it's tricky bringing up the topic of payment. I've gotten used to asking it as a sort of customary question which is always answered negatively. Don't be surprised if the question is met with muffled laughter - it hasn't happened to me, but there was this one time I asked the question, I was answered with a "sorry, we don't pay interns" and I swear I almost heard laughter and this subtext: "bwahahahaha. Oh, honey. NO."

I've just remembered, I did once get a gigantic packet of toilet paper rolls at an internship because they had ordered too many. I genuinely thought that was awesome of the boss. Does that count as some form of payment?

No one has high expectations of you
Which is horrid when you first thing about it, but it's great because (a)you're starting with a clean slate and (b)you can ask for and will receive honest feedback without feeling bad about it because the whole point is that you're there to learn. Which makes me think that people are probably more careful when they start out, they try to do their jobs better, you know? Like how you drive more carefully when you've just got your licence and five years later you're swerving like it's the bat mobile and not the pot hole filled roads of India?

Your time is the least important in the entire organization
Not having anything to do while you'e an intern is arguably the very worst bit. I detest it. I mean truly, completely abhor. If it was a tangible thing, this waiting, I'd go find one of those clubs they show in prehistoric age cartoons and batter it and beat the crap out of it till it was no more.
But this is something that my experience as an intern has taught me - your time is less important than the lone office fly every one is trying to swat. And less important than the people trying to swat it. Less important than the boss who calls you into their office via telephone (via telephone, this bit is crucial to what follows) to DIAL NUMBERS for long distance calls they're making. This actually happened to me.

It's bad. But you just have to learn to deal with it. And while you're dealing, find ways to kill time while still managing to look busy (basic tip: don't surf cat memes with mouth half open). Step one while doing useless internet surfing at work? MUTE THAT COMPUTER. In fact, you know what? The very first thing you do when you start an internship? Mute that computer! You don't want to leave the sound on and then accidentally click on the video of the dog that laughs like a hyena. Or a Harlem shake video - imagine that blasting in your office space.
My point is, you're going to spend a lot of time doing nothing. A LOT. A lot, a lot.

I'm not going to finish this off by tying a pretty little bow around the whole thing and saying that oh, it's not that bad. You still meet new people and learn how not to be. You start forming your own professional network. Because you do. Of course you do. But I'm not spelling it out.

Because the good stuff spoils you and let's you think life's alright. The bad stuff, however, turns you into a tough mofo and lets you know that being a grown up is not easy.
Not easy, but still, it's good fun. You get full freedom to decide when to clean up the cat poop in the living room. And, no one forces you to eat your greens.

The Cyniqueen

P.S: Seriously though. It's pretty okay. Don't be afraid.

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