Pop the bubble: get an internship and experience real life

May 29, 2019 — by Nitya Marimuthu

“Go get the boss’s coffee order! Don’t get it wrong!”

The intern quickly scurries out of the office, racing down the street. Inevitably, he gets caught in traffic and spends the last few minutes racing into the office, setting down coffee on the table just as the boss walks in.

In movies, interns are the frightened young college or high school students who stick to the back of the room and do the dirty work. My experience last summer, however, was completely different. For me, getting an internship provided me with a reality check, teaching me life skills and helping me get outside my comfort zone.

At school, my worldview is necessarily narrow. All I focus on are grades and (let’s be real) buffing up my resume.

My internship challenged those beliefs. A family friend connected me to the intern coordinator at assemblymember Evan Low’s office. In the position, I focused mostly on constituent outreach — returning letters, calls, planning events, going to community-wide events and doing general research.

In those months, I grew and changed at a rapid pace. As someone who has always had introverted tendencies, stepping into situations where I had to network and talk to groups of people who were very different from me provided me with challenges.

My first event as an intern was a gathering in an Asian restaurant in downtown San Jose meant to be a celebration for some outstanding community members.

I pulled into the event 20 minutes late due to the crazy traffic, stressed out and frazzled. After I entered the building, I quickly realized that even the second youngest person in that room was more than 10 years older. It became immediately apparent I was utterly out of my element. At first I stood on the side, my lack of social skills and crippling introversion preventing me from making a move to speak to anyone. Most of the people in the room were around my parents’ age, and they all knew each other well.

In that one-hour period, I talked to exactly one person. Even after the food was laid out on a table, I was pushed out of the way as I did not have enough of a will to fight my way into the buffet line.

The ride home was not fun.

Two months later, so much had changed. By then I was attending a networking event, where all of the interns from nearby offices as well as our own met together. There was horchata and Mexican food, and the two hours passed by quickly as I talked with many of the other interns as well as some of the city officials that were there. I spent the ride home jabbering to my parents about the incredible stories I had heard.

It might have been the group of people I was with, but my shyness had slid away like rain on a window. I could strike up a conversation and hold my end without letting my youth or confusion get in the way.

I learned how to research thoroughly and quickly in order to compile data sheets or necessary information for constituent outreach. Each day provided me with new jobs and opportunities to learn from these different roles.

Because of the job, I met city councilmembers, other constituents and many people involved in local government. Very few of them had taken the linear pathway to their jobs that teachings in school had led me to believe was the norm. Some had started as lawyers and moved into the political field while others had jumped around from job to job in local government before joining a company.

Even inside the office, there was a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities. The other interns ranged from high schoolers to juniors or seniors in college. Some were living in the Bay Area, while others had come back home from colleges in New York and Florida. Each of the staff members provided completely different experiences as they had different approaches to the job and how they had gotten there.   

During the internship, I did not realize how much I had learned and evolved. After I finished working and went back to school, it hit me how much my comfort zone has expanded. I no longer felt unnecessary fear when I talked to new people. In previous years, I anxiously searched for friends in all of my classes when I received my schedule. If I did not have an exact plan for the year, I would sit in worry, imagining the worst possible outcomes.

That summer, after getting my schedule, I put it aside and continued to enjoy my summer. I would figure it out when the time came. What was the worst that could happen? I could always find a way to meet new people and make friends.

I also found clarity on the field that I wanted to go into. Previously, I had naively followed the typical dream of going to medical school. After separately taking some medical courses over summer to see if this would enlighten me,  it struck me how much science bored me. I had this unfounded belief that medicine was the only path for me. Now I realized how much the humanities beckoned to me.

Needless to say, my internship was much more than just coffee runs — and beat an expensive summer program hands-down.

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