Twice a week, the 2 train screeches and groans through its underground tunnel carrying me onboard. Traveling away from campus to explore or experience induces a tightening sensation, a tautness in the line drawing me to Columbia. Downtown, Brooklyn, Queens: No matter where, every place reverberates with an air of difference, distance, and transience. I’m reminded that, after all, there’s no place like home. But my internship, where I head Thursdays and Fridays, does not evoke this separation. I feel instead comfort in my self-isolation, agency in the choice to estrange myself from my student identity, and pride in the trite but true “real-world experience” that the tasks of a new neighborhood offer.
For me, working off-campus is a way to try out an alternative scope. Even on leisurely excursions and weekday lazings-about, school’s responsibilities remain imprinted on the mind. Interning means switching gears—reprioritizing. If you cannot step away from your papers, tests, readings, and problem sets, then you cannot concentrate on the work at hand. Practice makes ease, if not perfect—and soon, the hubbub of an office beyond the horizon of your dorm room window forces independence. There is something refreshing, humbling even, in zooming out this way. Although troubles, worries, and stressors will soon pour in again as the 2 train takes me back uptown, my hours away do not just delay but mold their avenues. Working as a student does not—and should not, I staunchly believe—minimize the importance or power of my education. But, it does help distinguish the necessary from the superfluous in small degrees.
Ideally, too, we interns learn from our jobs. There are hard-and-fast skills we want to pick up, like familiarity with certain programs or the growth in amount and variety of writing samples to share. There are also the softer lessons: the experience with corporate (or not-so-corporate) environments and hierarchies, the self-confidence in utilizing our abilities, the humility in appreciating the difference between theory and praxis, the simple feeling of working a full day’s stretch, and so on. When we account for networking potential, resume building, sampling careers to inform our later decisions, the sum worth of internships seems to fall wholly on the positive.
It’s good to get out of the Columbia bubble and see it from the outside in. It’s good to maneuver in an unfamiliar setting, with unfamiliar people, doing unfamiliar projects. It’s good to learn without a classroom, a professor, and other students. Why, then, doesn’t everybody work at an internship?
Assuming that everyone here who wants a job can get one—which is unfair, I know—the first, and probably the largest, obstacle is time. Most of us have class from Monday to Thursday. Some, like me, schedule their semesters unusually for long weekends or mid-week breaks. Others have labs or language classes on Fridays. Even before considering schoolwork—that constantly fought but somehow always-present beast—this schedule does not invite the majority of students to work. Columbia may advertise its Friday-free week as a way to encourage city internships, but the reality of the situation is that many employers ask for half-days, two full days, sometimes even three.
Of course, we cannot just discount classwork, studying, club meetings, sports practices, relaxing with friends, and alone time. We go to Columbia first to be students—to do all that students do, inside the classroom and out. Internships are time-sinks—that same reprioritizing might hurt rather than help. We are wont to misjudge our needs, to overextend ourselves with the belief that achieving requires overachieving. It is harder to quit an internship than to bow out of an extracurricular, though. Our time has more at stake.
Say you have the time for an internship: It will not interfere with your classes or schoolwork, and you will still have room for your activities and friends. The question becomes, then, do you want to commit? I think that “free time” is a bit of a myth. We always find ways to fill that void, whether by joining another organization, watching movies, or taking a nap. We might see interning as a matter of cost-benefit analysis. What will you get versus what will you lose?
Each person’s response to this week’s Canon must be the product of subjective investigation. I applied to an internship this semester because I had the time and wanted this specific learning experience—another student, another semester, would not have. The internship experience is an important opportunity that Columbia affords us, but it is neither definitive nor critical. Among the many ways to learn, grow, and develop ourselves and our futures, working off-campus stands out more prominently at Columbia than most schools. At a place with so much to give us, though, we should by no means overemphasize this single aspect.
Ben Rashkovich is a Columbia College junior majoring in creative writing. He contributes regularly to The Canon.
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