Summer internships: Highs, lows and everything in between

Early in the summer, the movie “The Internship” premiered right when college students all over the country were starting their first nervous days at internships of their own. As internships become more important in finding that Job (yes, Job with a capital “J”) after graduation, this movie hit home for many. Students’ internship experiences, however, are hardly something straight out of Hollywood. Instead, they can be boring, tedious or unpaid. They can also, however, be fulfilling and life-changing. As summer winds to a close, it’s time for students to transition back into student life, but it’s also time to reflect on those summer internships. Below, read about the experiences of three of The DePaulia’s editors and what they learned from their experiences.

Link: Jump to DePaulia Online Editor Summer Concepcion’s experience interning with the Chicago Reader

Link: Jump to DePaulia Managing Editor Courtney Jacquin’s experience interning with Time Out New York

Link: Jump to DePaulia Focus Editor Colleen Connolly’s experience interning with Smithsonian Magazine

Summer Concepcion, DePaulia Online Editor and Chicago Reader summer 2013 intern

As I write this, I am very sleep-deprived and emotionally drained from all that happened during my last day of interning. I flew home to LA right after ending my internship with the Chicago Reader and still haven’t processed everything. I’m really sad about leaving, to say the least, because a large part of why this has been the best summer I’ve had thus far is because I interned there.

Going into this internship, I had no idea what to expect. I had never interned anywhere before, so once I found out I made the cut at the Reader, I was extremely surprised and happy. The Reader is one of the first publications I became familiar with when I moved to Chicago two years ago. From the start, I admired everything about it, from its eye-opening content to its format and to the way it embodies the spirit of the city. Even then, it seemed like a publication I should aspire to work for someday. I began sticking Reader covers onto my dorm room walls freshman year and again stuck those covers onto my bedroom wall in my apartment a year later (they’re still on my walls to this day). Little did I know that I’d be interning for them so soon.

During my first day at the office, it still felt unreal that I was working in the Sun-Times building. On the 10th floor where the Reader’s office is located, there is a break room with a cereal bar (yes, you read that right, a CEREAL bar) with milk to choose from (including almond milk!), a cool touch screen soda machine where you can pick out almost any soda your heart desires (cherry Coke all day, everyday), a candy and ice cream bar (I admittedly robbed countless Twix bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups whenever there were any available), and a small arcade (I’m actually mad that I never took advantage of it because I’m always up for friendly arcade game competition). I was awestruck already.

The first few weeks were a bit slow. I mainly worked on event listings and often confused the Reader’s style with AP style, which The DePaulia uses for stories (I blame my stint as a copy editor during the past school year for that). I wasn’t too sure on how to interact with the staff, especially since I admire them so much (I am a fangirl at heart, after all). Admittedly, I was lost and perhaps a bit intimidated. A part of me felt overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I didn’t want to stay anonymous for too long.

It was around mid-July when I pitched an idea to the associate editor (Kevin Warwick) for the Reader’s “Show Us Your” segment. This idea was about an Illinois Institute of Technology student’s Rubik’s Cube spin-off called the X-Cube‒ an idea I stumbled upon by chance while riding the Red Line one day after class. That very same student sat next to me and fiddled with the X-Cube during the train ride and people swarmed him because of it. I knew right then and there that this would be a good story. Pitching it was a shot in the dark, but I knew that I would regret not doing so. To my surprise, Kevin highly approved and told me to run with it. It was my first article for a non-school publication, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

After my X-Cube story was published, Kevin told me that it was well-written and well-liked around the office. I was flabbergasted because I didn’t feel worthy of receiving such a compliment, especially with all of the fantastic writers in the room. From then on, I gained more confidence in myself, pitched more ideas and churned out a couple more “Show Us Your” articles such as an arm wrestler’s choice of costume and a company’s fashionable use of recycled bike inner tubes. (Side note: I also enjoyed telling people that I’m a “Reader writer.” People are a lot more receptive when you’re writing for the Reader compared to when you’re writing for journalism classes!)

Everything picked up once I started writing more. One thing that always makes me happy is actually feeling like a journalist ‒ from the reporting to the writing and everything else in between. Interning at the Reader gave me that feeling. I even got to work with one of the senior writers (Steve Bogira) by transcribing his interviews and speaking with him about investigative journalism. Before interning at the Reader, I wasn’t sure which kind of journalism was my best fit. After Steve shared his knowledge during our conversation, I realized what I love most about journalism: talking to different types of people while throwing myself in different situations. I’m also studying sociology at DePaul, so my ultimate dream would be to combine sociology into journalism. I now want to dive into investigative journalism more than ever.

I felt really sad during my last week at the Reader. It seemed like it was all ending too soon. I had developed a personal connection to an alt weekly that I’ve always respected. I wrote thank-you notes and did my best to tell people how I felt. Saying goodbye to the staff members was really emotional, and I was especially shaky when saying goodbye to Kevin, my supervisor Drew Hunt and editor-in-chief Mara Shalhoup. I struggled to put into words how much the experience means to me and I died inside when they only had positive things to say to me right as I was leaving. The Reader will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first publication that gave me the chance to intern. Although goodbyes are tough, I’m happy knowing that my contributions were worthwhile.

This was the summer I fell even more in love with journalism and Chicago, all thanks to the Reader. Hopefully this won’t be the last time that I’ll be involved with them because I don’t think that I’ll ever get over how I was allowed to walk through their doors in the first place. I’m still expecting to wake up from some crazy dream about my amazing experience, but since I haven’t, I’ll now be able to reminisce about the fond memories of my time there. Thank you, Chicago Reader, for the experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better first internship.

Link: Jump to DePaulia Managing Editor Courtney Jacquin’s experience interning with Time Out New York

Link: Jump to DePaulia Focus Editor Colleen Connolly’s experience interning with Smithsonian Magazine

Courtney Jacquin, DePaulia Managing Editor and Time Out New York summer 2013 intern

I just turned in my last writing assignment to my editor, and I have one more day in the office left. I think I can now adequately reflect on my summer internship in New York.

Ever since I left New York (spoiler alert I went to NYU my freshman year . . . and I’m getting really tired of saying that still), I had grandiose plans to return – I would have a fabulous summer internship between my junior and senior years of college and make a permanent post-grad return to my favorite city in 2014.

I spent a sick amount of time winter quarter applying to just about every publication I’ve ever heard of, and a lot more that I didn’t. I never wanted to see another cover letter in my life after that winter, but I know that’s just not an option. My goal of all goals was to be accepted into the Condé Nast summer program as an editorial intern. (Condé Nast is the publisher of “Vogue,” “W,” “The New Yorker” and just about every other magazine you’ve ever loved.) But such was the goal of every bright-eyed journalism student around the country who ever opened a “Teen Vogue” when they were 12.

After flying out to New York during spring break for an interview and a collection of phone interviews, I was left with the choice between Time Out New York or Shine by Yahoo. Shine paid $3,500 for the summer but didn’t guarantee I would do any writing. TONY was unpaid but with guaranteed clips. I’m a sucker for a portfolio builder.

There are many “summer internship” programs out there where students from across the country come together and work together, sharing the experience of the big city together. I knew that wasn’t what I was getting (nor was I really looking for it).

I came into TONY knowing a fellow intern, my former suitemate and bff at NYU, (yes, I got my editor’s contact through her, I got the job on my trusty wit and feeble attempts at writing) and knowing the city to an extent. Everything was all set for me.

My internship experience started off much differently than expected. Coming from a strictly editorial background, I was taken aback when I was spending my days checking in shoe and dress samples and later retrieving the copious loot from the “fashion closet” (TONY isn’t a fashion magazine, this was a storage closet next to the bathrooms).

Eventually things turned around. I fell into the usual swing of fact-checking, researching and slowly writing. It took me years, but I’m finally over my phone anxiety and I can find you the PR contact for anyone now. Try me. Gillian, my friend, told me that it took our editor a while, but once she could trust your work she’d assign you something.

In the end I got what I wanted; I got to write. Writing about new store openings around the city were short pieces, but it’s basic reporting that can be applied to just about anything, not just a shopping section. I was afforded some cool opportunities too – once my editor brought me to a press event by Original Penguin on a boat tour around Manhattan at dusk. There was free food, drinks and pants (men’s unfortunately) and some killer views and Instagram shots. I, however, am terrified of boats and water and got extremely seasick and threw up in my bathtub when I got home. It’s okay, my editor did, too. I also got “101 Sangrias and Pitcher Drinks” out of our free bin today. What a steal.

I’ve been phrasing all of this like I’m holding back something, and I am. It’s no secret, but unpaid internships are a problem. There have been a mess of lawsuits that have come out this past year fighting for the rights of interns. While I’d never throw my name behind a lawsuit, I know exactly what I signed up for – in fact, I chose it over a hefty stipend. This summer was hard.

Every time I went to work, I spent $5 on transit alone, plus all of the quarters I dropped into the vending machine in our kitchen for mid-day Diet Cokes. I was here for too short of a time to find a part-time job and the family I used to nanny for went away for the summer, so I dipped into my savings for 10 weeks. Because of this I was on an extremely tight budget and I feel as if I really missed out on living in New York this summer – I finished all seven seasons of “The West Wing” in eight weeks, an illustration of how often I went outdoors when not working.

Through the struggle, however, my internship taught me the most important thing it could – do I want to do this for real?

Do I want to work in fashion? Absolutely not. It was once a goal – a dream – but I’ve realized I’ve changed and learned to not stifle myself into this tiny area.

Do I want to move back to New York? For the most surprising answer, no. Or at least not right now. With exorbitant rents in Manhattan (I spent $675 + utilities/month to sleep on a futon in the living room/kitchen) and a job market that’s not great, there’s nothing for me here that’s not in Chicago. In fact, I’ve come to love Chicago and realized it has much more for me than I ever thought. It only took two years and an extended stay 1,000 miles east to fully realize that.

Do I want to be a writer? Unfortunately, still yes. I wish I were remotely good at anything else, but this is the fate I’m stuck with.

Thanks, Time Out New York, I appreciate all of the time I’ve spent with you.

Link: Jump to DePaulia Online Editor Summer Concepcion’s experience interning with the Chicago Reader

Link: Jump to DePaulia Focus Editor Colleen Connolly’s experience interning with Smithsonian Magazine

Colleen Connolly, DePaulia Focus Editor and Smithsonian Magazine summer 2013 intern

A few weeks ago, I came back to Chicago after spending two months of the summer in Washington, D.C., for an internship with Smithsonian Magazine. Before I left, I thought the two months would fly by and I’d be back in Chicago before I even knew what happened. After 360 hours of work, several online clips, two trips to New York and hours upon hours of fact checking, however, those two months came to define my summer, which at times felt incredibly long.

I had internships before this summer, but never a paid and full-time one. I had also never been to D.C. or New York, where my program was based. Almost everything was new to me, down to the place I lived (on-campus at the University of Maryland, which is very different than DePaul) and the after-work habits of my fellow interns (“Happy Hour” is huge in D.C.). The culture shock was unexpected, but definitely real.

I left for D.C. June 9, right before finals week. I was alone with an overweight suitcase and a 10-page paper left to write that was weighing me down. But I had little time to dwell on the final paper because I started work at Smithsonian at 9 a.m. the next day. For that first week, I woke up every morning thanking the internship god that I did not oversleep, walked a mile to the metro where I rode it to L’Enfant Plaza, introduced myself to countless Smithsonian employees and interns and struggled to write down and remember all of the odd little assignments I was given. Then I’d take the metro back to College Park, Maryland, try to be social with my new roommates since I didn’t know anyone and write a few torturous pages of my final paper before collapsing in bed. It took a few weeks just to recover from my first week in the real work world. The relaxing and restful summer I had anticipated was not destined, I quickly found out.

After a few weeks on the job, I was starting to become accustomed to my workday routine, and my corner of the layout room was starting to feel like my second home. I was on the lowest rung of the intern ladder at the Smithsonian (the rest of the interns were graduates who had cubicles at least), but I felt incredibly lucky to be there, and even luckier to be able to write for a magazine I respected so much.

To start off, I was often delegated writing tasks for the “At the Smithsonian” tab on the website, which covered events and exhibits at the 19 Smithsonian museums. At the end of June, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival kicked off, and it was up to me to post event schedules and festival news. For my first story, I interviewed a Welsh singer, who performed at the festival, about the endangered Welsh language and how it’s making a comeback in Welsh society. The story never made it into the Top 10 Most Popular on the website (I doubt it was even close), but the link was tweeted almost 100 times, which was good enough for me. It was this first story and the accompanying congratulatory note from my editor that reassured me that I was in the right place.

I had the chance to write several more stories for the website, but not everything I did felt so glamorous. I never wrote for print, but I fact-checked nearly a dozen stories for the September and October issues. The task was tedious and took hours longer than I ever thought it would. I also spent several hours of research on one piece of information about a potential profile for the November issue, which never ended up being used, although everyone was grateful for my work. Working for the print side of the magazine showed me just how rigorous and painstaking it can be to put out a respected monthly magazine, while working for the digital side was exciting and gave me the chance to produce publishable pieces.

By the end of the summer, I was ready for that restful and relaxing break I had hoped for, but I was not ready to leave the Smithsonian Magazine offices. I would miss the casual conversations with senior editors who wandered into the layout room, the weekly photo meetings with baked goods (and the occasional mimosa), lunches with the other interns on the rooftop deck and even having my own personal Smithsonian email address (as an intern, even the little things can be really exciting). Furthermore, I would miss D.C. and the University of Maryland, which had come to feel like home to me. I was initially turned off by the stark differences between D.C. and Chicago, and the even starker differences between DePaul and UMD, but by the end of the summer, I felt comfortable and happy there. I also feel more ready to move across the country for a job after graduation if that’s how things work out.

My Smithsonian email account is, sadly, now deleted and I’ve said goodbye to my coworkers, mentors, fellow interns, roommates and new friends, but I was fortunate to have the experience I did and hope that it isn’t over quite yet. My last story for the summer was published shortly after I returned to Chicago (read all about the invention of the coffee cup sleeve and the accompanying drama in the coffee industry here). To my surprise, it made it into the Top 10 Most Popular stories on the website, peaking at a proud No. 9. It was a great note to end on, but I’m not sure I want to end quite yet. Those incredibly long two months now feel extremely short, so perhaps I’ll be back soon, blogging and fact-checking away.

Link: Jump to DePaulia Online Editor Summer Concepcion’s experience interning with the Chicago Reader

Link: Jump to DePaulia Managing Editor Courtney Jacquin’s experience interning with Time Out New York