Before I begin my narrative sequel to why I advocate for international internships, I’ll make some fundamentals clear:
Who am I and what am I interested in?
I am Eleni, a junior at UT Austin and very interested in publishing and writing. I am a philosophy and humanities major so, mostly, both because of my major and my field, I have been searching for job experience and internships on my own.
Looking for an internship
The plan initially was to apply to all paid publishing internships, and particularly for fiction as it is where I want to be in the future. I might as well start early. The problem was: all six – maybe seven – internships were highly competitive, at giants like Penguin and Simon & Schuster. I applied regardless, knowing though that my lack of experience would work against me.
There was a second plan too, of smaller magnitude, one that slipped into my mind methodically and grew gradually in appeal. I could return to my hometown, in Athens, Greece, to work for a publisher there. Now, this was no meager publisher. Patakis is the most well-known Greek publisher internationally and is one of the biggest if not the biggest in Greece.
It is no Penguin – but then again, maybe that was a good thing, something that would make me stand out, something that would provide me with a hands-on publishing experience that I could curate to my interests since I’d be the only intern.
Working as one of many interns in an ocean of employees for a company that expands across continents limits the kind of exposure and control I as an intern would have. That meant that I was the only intern and that there was no set schedule for me to follow. I dealt directly with my boss, one of the two daughters who run the publishing house, whose family owns it. She was in charge of non-fiction and children’s books. She first asked of me what I was interested in, how many hours I wanted to work, what I wanted to get out of the internship and other similar questions. We drew up a plan and settled that I’d begin with editing already translated works (from Greek to English); I would help her prepare nominations for an international contest; and finally, if I wanted, I could take on the role of translator myself and translate children’s books. Also, if I wanted I could venture into the adult fiction department and help them with translations or editing of the original Greek.
What a dream.
By the end of the summer, I had edited multiple short works and novels, completed the presentations of the two books we decided on for the contest, read stacks of books, met three authors, begun my own translations. I gained experience, a freelance job as a translator and editor, and an offer for a future job (for two years later, when I graduated).
It’s no small feat, for a two-month internship. And the only reason why so much happened was because I had chosen to go where I was most needed. I was offering them skills (being bilingual in Greek and English; and having intensive writing training from university: creative, professional and academic) that were unique and sought after. And in return, I could adjust my internship to my interests and have more control over the type of work I got, which as a result was not administrative but substantial editing and translating and dealing with authors directly.
For the entirety of the internship I dealt directly with one of the owners of the publishing house. With her functioning as my mentor, I immediately received great exposure to the industry. Every time I went into her office, she loaded me with more books – “I think you’ll like this … Oh you’ll love this,” she’d say, growing the pile. “Maybe we could potentially work on their translations sometime in the future,” she’d say other times. She encouraged me to ask her questions, initiate projects and share my ideas; she offered to introduce writers and poets and even invited me over to her house to have lunch with her family and one author.
Our professional relationship was such that I was willing to work hard and take on as much as she could give me, and in turn, she would trust me with plenty of responsibility. She would send me emails, with either large or small files, and ask what I thought of the translation, the story, the author or all three. She was genuinely interested in my reception of the work which made me feel more valuable than a mere summer intern. Further, I became additionally motivated to help and work hard to meet her expectations.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it was, though, that I offered a skill she needed. Being bilingual in Greek and English, having recently graduated Greek school and currently enrolled in American university with one year of experience in London, provided me with an edge not many could offer. It made me still familiar with Greek culture, slang and contemporary modes of speech, while retaining formal Greek language training from school. It meant I was familiar both with American and British English dialect differences, tones and cultures. And my studies at UT guaranteed a high level of English fluency and writing that would help in translations, editing, and even in communications with foreign agents.
Ultimately, I couldn’t have asked for a better internship, one of such personal and professional growth. I experienced the publishing world by diving into it and now, having resurfaced, I know it is a career I care for. But I also met great people and made connections within the field that will offer both them and me an international edge and network. To maintain contact, I will work for them as a freelancer in parallel with my studies, which will pave yet another professional avenue, if I decide to be a freelance writer.
All in all, I would encourage you to choose the opportunity that will set you apart; choose people who will train you and offer you chances you wouldn’t otherwise get; choose an internship that will catapult you beyond your comfort zone and hone skills that are marketable and individual to you. Look for small companies, speak directly to employers and search along a wider radius for just the right internship.
It is more than a job search: it is a treasure hunt.