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My Failed Hot Intern Summer: Why You Should Think Twice About Doing an Unpaid Internship

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Summer 2022 was going to be a movie or like a really nice cinematic TikTok. My idea, entitled D.C. Dreamz, was meticulously planned. I would become my best self, wear pretty clothes, go thrifting, learn an instrument, get myself a summer ting, and more. I learned rather quickly how relevant the word “dream” was to my whole summer experience.

This summer, I had the privilege to intern at a public relations agency in D.C. as a member of the SBS in DC program here at UMass Amherst. I was excited to put myself out of my comfort zone and gain professional experience in the career space I hope to enter once I graduate in May. All of my internship and job experiences had previously been remote or on campus, so I was excited to get to the office, meet my other interns and co-workers, and learn directly from the team that would be supervising my work.

Within a week of being in D.C. I came to the realization that I was really really bad at the whole adulting thing. I mean, the budgeting part specifically. One drink for $14.50? At Spoke (an Amherst bar) that could get me, like, three and a half double Dirty Shirleys before the price increase. Did I buy another passion fruit mojito that cost $14.50 anyway? Yeah. ‘Cause I’m here to live the experience. I’m proud of myself, miss Black Queen interning in D.C., and making my parents proud! Miss spends over $30 on sugary overpriced glass cups of goodness because I will definitely make that money back…or not. 

I made the decision to do an unpaid internship, despite the fact that I have professors and mentors who would advise against this. 

“You’re a college student Shermarie! A city as expensive as D.C. requires some serious serious money,” the logical part of me decreed.

“But it’s D.C.,” yelled the optimistic side of me. And it was the optimistic side that won out. I thought about how being a Black woman, first-gen college student, and daughter of immigrants meant that I owed it to not only myself, but to my parents who weren’t and still aren’t too sure about the whole PR thing.

An internship in D.C. with an agency as a member of a highly competitive program would look amazing on my resume. I’ve done unpaid internships before, my first paid internship being in my junior year of college. It never seemed difficult before, but that’s because I had the privilege of living at home and not having to worry about living expenses. In D.C., I had the responsibility of paying for everything out of pocket. That included paying for food, transportation, and activity fees. I was fortunate enough to have my housing taken care of by the program I was in, some scholarship money, as well as financial help from my parents when things got tough. On two occasions I had to ask my parents for a little help, which at the time felt incredibly shameful, as my parents had raised me to not ask for anything. Of course, my family was ever-loving and supportive, but it was a rude awakening for me on multiple occasions. This “hot intern summer” was looking like a bust.

Despite the very rude awakening and the realization that vibes can only take you so far, I had some amazing experiences that definitely shaped me for the better. I got to visit the Smithsonian museums for free, my favorite being the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I also made friends with my cohort and mentors, and I love and appreciate them for being a cause of happiness and comfort for me. I appreciate my internship for helping me develop professionally and for the chance to work on fun projects, and I also feel proud of myself for trying something very new. 

This isn’t a piece shaming unpaid internships. I understand the value in them, and understand that sometimes taking unpaid internships is the way to go especially if you want to build your job experience, but also realize the privileges that can and do exist when working these opportunities. I know that financial stability would have changed the experience altogether. Sure, that could have meant a round of passionfruit mojitos on me, but on a more serious note, that could have meant alleviated stress, consistent meals, and financial stability. 

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Shermarie Hyppolite

U Mass Amherst '23

Shermarie is currently a senior at UMASS Amherst double majoring in Communication and Journalism with a concentration in PR and is a part of the Commonwealth Honors College. When she is not writing pieces or doing homework, she is listening to k-pop music, reading, ranting about Beyoncé, and scrolling through Tumblr and Twitter.