As we all know, the spread of coronavirus has caused the world to slow to a halt. Our nations and businesses have closed, and colleges across the United States have shut down and sent their students home. Students were left uncertain about the internships they applied to or had lined up for the summer of 2020.
I found myself in the same situation: I had applied for a handful of internships and was planning on working as a lifeguard at my neighborhood pool. However, as the weeks of quarantine progressed, it seemed increasingly likely I would not be able to work my job or secure an internship, as they were canceled due to a lack of funds or safety concerns. I started to look for other opportunities and activities to occupy my time.
My luck shifted in May; I was offered a position with the National Constitution Center’s Education Department as an intern for their summer teaching programs. Subsequently, I was offered an alternate position as an intern at Hawthorne Cultural Center, which oversaw the pool that I would have worked at as a lifeguard. I was thrilled, and I accepted both positions.
My internship experience at the National Constitution Center was entirely remote, which proved to be interesting. The initial internship description was heavily centered around being in-person and involved a lot of other people traveling to the National Constitution Center; after the internship was canceled, my role as an intern shifted significantly. The format of the internship consisted of Zoom calls and independent work. Most of my larger meetings were conducted over Zoom, and I worked a lot through Google Docs and Google Classroom. While it was not the typical coffee-touting and folder-organizing work experience I had envisioned, it was a fulfilling period of time during my summer.
My second internship contrasted heavily with my experience at the National Constitution Center. My internship experience at the Hawthorne Cultural Center was in-person, and my duties included overseeing the implementation and safety of a summer day camp hosted within a recreation center in South Philadelphia. This was nerve-wracking; we were at the height of a global pandemic, and the city of Philadelphia wanted to offer small in-person camps for children ages 5-12. I was scared, and so were my older supervisors. We were concerned about our safety and the children’s ability to stay socially distant and keep their masks on.
My duties in this internship were heavily altered to accommodate for the global pandemic. As head intern, I was in charge of monitoring high school-aged workers as well as the 12 children (in contrast to typical enrollment of 100) attending the summer camp. Alongside this, I administered health checks at the beginning of each day at camp – checking for masks, scanning temperatures, and inquiring about symptoms. I noticed early on that children had difficulties keeping masks on for the seven-hour days, and a lot of them wanted to hug us and play together. My team sought to ensure that the children were happy but safe by organizing independent sports, education, and arts activities.
While working at the camp, I developed a skill I would have never picked up if not for the current health crisis: sewing. The city provided few disposable masks, and the staff and I were relying heavily on masks our supervisor bought with her local funds. Children would come in wearing masks that were not fit for their small faces, leaving gaps along the edges. I noticed that the recreation center had a few sewing machines, so I decided to take it upon myself to learn how to sew reusable masks for everyone.
My internship experiences during a global pandemic were diverse and varied. I learned about the remote work experience, relying on Zoom and emails to stay connected to others, and I experienced situations that could have only arisen due to the present health crisis. Most importantly, I learned about adapting to new situations and how workspaces were tackling these current issues, both virtually and in-person.