Just about everyone I know has been asking me about my summer plans. They’re expecting to hear that I landed a competitive internship in D.C. But that’s not the case for me. Often, it feels like I am disappointing them when I admit that my summer plans just include going home to Omaha, Neb. and working a typical summer job.
There’s nothing wrong with going home. But my summer job pales in comparison to some of the prestigious opportunities that my friends and classmates landed. They are interning for well-recognized companies that might offer them a real job after they graduate. And I couldn’t be happier for them. But these opportunities don’t always line up for everyone – and students, including myself, shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for going home to work as camp counselors or in customer service to earn money and spend time with family. There are skills to be gained from summer jobs, just like internships, including time management, communicative skills and team work.
Still, it’s hard to shake off the impressive jobs that my peers have. Not only are many of my friends and classmates hardworking and talented, but they also live near cities like New York City, Chicago and D.C., where jobs and internships are nearby and plentiful. I am not trying to blame geography for my summer job situation. At the same time, living a few miles outside of Omaha, Neb. doesn’t necessarily help my chances with internship opportunities outside the agriculture and transportation fields.
With the highly competitive nature at GW, it can be difficult to not get a job or internship that would be a good stepping-off point for your future. But it’s important to remember that sometimes a job is just a job. It doesn’t necessarily need to push us in the direction of our final career. Although about 68 percent of students have internships during their GW career, according to institutional research, students who don’t intern can still gain valuable experience from jobs.
If students have yet to graduate, they shouldn’t feel immense pressure to start a career before they’ve been handed a diploma. It’s hard not to let other people’s success make you feel discouraged. But no matter how you perceive the quality of your summer job, there is always something to be gained.
This summer, I’ll work as an art counselor at a summer camp that is catered to kindergartners through sixth graders. While some students might argue that their work interning on Capitol Hill or with a nonprofit organization that works to fight world hunger is more meaningful than mine, students with jobs that don’t have a flashy title can still make a change. I get to work with kids and ensure that their summer is full of meaningful activities and that they keep learning outside of the school year, which will not only give me large responsibilities but also teach me about working with others.
Before I landed this job, I applied to about 30 other jobs and internships, looking to be an administrative assistant or writer for the summer, both in D.C. and Nebraska. And I got lucky. In Omaha, Neb., five employers got back to me and were interested in hiring me. But once they realized that I was still a student and I’d have to go back to D.C. in the middle of August, I no longer was the best candidate. They were looking for interns who could work full time for at least a year, which is understandable.
I considered applying for a few unpaid internships to try my luck. But having an unpaid internship in D.C., or any city outside of Nebraska, wasn’t an option financially. My family is helping me with my college bills, and paying to rent or sublet while I wasn’t earning an income wasn’t feasible for us. Depending on financial limitations sometimes means that we can’t take the jobs, both unpaid and paid, that we would love to take.
It’s important for students to avoid thinking of summer jobs as inferior compared to the summer plans of our classmates.
I have been working since I was 16 years old because I knew that I needed to learn to be independent, and getting a job was one way to start on that path. I’ve continued to work throughout my college career and haven’t been unemployed for more than two months since. I work because I need to, and while my family isn’t poor, I feel useless if I decide to not work for a summer or for a semester. Through working, I have learned that it’s better to be independent than to rely on my family. I’ve developed traits like a strong work ethic and grit that will help me pursue a future career where I can use my talents because I know the value of hard work.
Whether students are baristas or lifeguards, they are also gaining skills that can help them in future careers. They are building up relationships and establishing a reputation for dedication and reliability that is needed to be considered for any job in the future. It’s important for students to avoid thinking of summer jobs as inferior compared to the summer plans of our classmates. These experiences can still develop skills necessary for the future.
With hardworking friends and a competitive environment at GW, it is hard not to compare myself with those around me. I often feel like I’m falling behind, but I try my best to remind myself that no one person’s path is the same, and it is perfectly normal to not have that dream job or internship at all times. If students find themselves in situations similar to mine, they should keep their heads down and work hard because they can still gain experience that will get them where they want to be, sooner or later.
Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.
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