My Summer Internship Experience: Zoom Style

In January, I wrote an article for Her Campus about my New Year’s goals. One of them was to get a summer internship and then be able to write about my experience for Her Campus when we resumed in the fall. I am happy to say that I achieved this goal, and this article will be about my virtual internship for the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia this summer. 

I applied to the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia before COVID-19. I had visions of myself getting dressed up in professional clothes, and taking the train into the city to work. In my head, this signified adulthood. I was looking forward to it. Then, COVID-19 hit. And when various internships and summer programs got canceled, I figured this one would be too. However, at the beginning of April, I got a call from their intern manager, confirming that their internships would still be happening virtually and that they wanted to offer me a position. I was beyond ecstatic, and grateful, to say the least. And so, on May 8, from my childhood bedroom and in my typical summer attire, I began work.

I worked for the Council’s Education Department, meaning I helped to run various summer programs about international relations and foreign policy for high school students. Every summer, the department holds a themed, week-long program for students that consists of guest speakers, and various activities such as debates and mock crisis simulations. Luckily, we were able to turn this program virtual, with this summer’s theme being U.S. foreign policy. Most of my work consisted of researching various topics, such as the U.S./Middle East Relations and the response of various countries to Covid-19 around the world, and creating clear and concise documents for both the students to read and for my fellow teammates to use as a guide when creating the various activities for this years program.

overhead shot of a desk with someone writing in a notebook and on a video call on a computer Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels One of the most valuable skills I learned through my internship was how to do effective but sophisticated research. As I mentioned previously, a great deal of my internship was researching topics in preparation for the summer program. I then had to present this research in two different ways. First, I had to make it understandable for high school students, as there were many briefing papers they had to read before each day of the program. I also needed to make the research sophisticated enough for my fellow team members, who used it to help plan the various program activities. As a student in the social sciences at a liberal arts college, and as someone looking to go into the non-profit or governmental sector, this is a skill that will serve me well in any class or job I may have in the future. 

Another extremely important skill I learned was how to work well with others. I consider myself to be pretty good at this already, as I was a camp counselor for many years and as I’m sure is true for you reading this, have completed my fair share of group projects throughout the years. However, I improved in this field drastically this summer. The two other interns and I were tasked with leading a discussion with the group about race and gender in the foreign policy field and the lack of representation that there is for women and of people of color. Together, the three of us had to come up with an outline for this sensitive discussion. It ended up being one of the highlights of the program for me, and I loved both working with my fellow interns as well as hearing from the extremely intelligent and thoughtful participants. 

a woman in business casual stands in front of a white board, writing with a marker in an office space Christina Morillo | Pexels As I mentioned before, the high school participants were some of the smartest and most thoughtful people I have ever talked to. They came from all around the Philly area as well as Philadelphia itself and attended a mix of public, charter, and private high schools and all brought unique perspectives to the discussion. Through our discussions and the various activities we held (a COVID-19 crisis simulation, a U.S./China Trade War Debate, and a final group presentation) I learned so much and was so impressed with the students.

Another highlight of the summer program, and of the internship in general, for me was hearing the various guest speakers during our program. All five of them were extremely interesting, passionate, and accomplished people in their fields, who also managed to make their presentations enjoyable even over zoom. All the speakers came from different careers and so it was fascinating to learn about the different work that they do and the advice they have for young people entering the field. One speaker was a college professor who studies the Middle East and another was a former CIA employee. As someone not quite sure what they want to do, but knows they want to go into the international line of work, hearing from successful speakers of all backgrounds was really valuable. 

While it was a different experience interning from home, and it was weird working with people every day without having ever met them, I am so thankful for this experience. I am thankful for the opportunity to work for the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, for what I learned, for the connections I made,  and that this even happened at all, both safely and virtually. I am also excited to announce that I will be continuing as an intern for the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia this fall.