Seek a Summer Internship that Makes a Difference

Chicago, Il.  This is the time of year when college students seek the best possible summer internship opportunity. After my freshman year of college, the majority of my peers decided to find an internship in their field of study. The goal is not only to gain experience but also to build a professional network. What one knows is just as important as whom one knows.

At most internships, instead of real work most interns do secretarial work. My friends, at their internships, performed mostly secretarial duties, such as working a copy machine, picking up lunch and making coffee. Even though those skills are very valuable, I decided to take a different path.

Jesse Pollans, standing next to flag bearer, learned meaningful life lessons as camp counselor.

I chose to take a familiar path. Instead of going to a nine-to five-internship, I returned as a counselor to Camp Ojibwa in Eagle River, Wis. When I told people that I was going to return to camp, most were shocked and told me that a 20 year old should get a real job. After digesting all of the negative feedback, I had one question: why? Why is it not considered as valuable as a traditional internship to learn life lessons and dexterities, such as how to deal with homesick eight year olds, help two bickering kids become friends or deal with an 11 year old who is throwing up in the middle of the night?

My friends believe that what they are doing will benefit them in the long run. I agree—but only up to a certain point. Entry-level work does help out to an extent.  However, if nothing of substance is being accomplished then there can only be so much advantage.  I have seen results when I show two kids that they can become lifelong friends just by simply starting to talk to each other or by sitting down for hours comforting a homesick boy while he cries, letting him know that it is normal and all kids miss their parents.

I have made a difference when I know a child trusts me enough to wake me up at 3 o’clock in morning because he threw up and didn’t know what to do. I notice a strong parallel as I reflect on my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I think not of the math, Spanish or history lessons that I learned but rather of the life lessons: how to make new friends, live independently and develop a good work ethic.

In thirty years, it may not matter whether or not I had an internship in the summer of 2012 – just as I may not remember how to calculate the area under a curve.  One thing is certain: I will most certainly remember the memorable times that I had as a freshman in college and the incredible summers that I spent at Camp Ojibwa mentoring and helping shape the lives of young boys.

Editor Christopher Rim is the founder and president of It Ends Today, an anti-bullying awareness organization. Chris, a Luce Leader, is a high school senior who will enter Yale University in the fall.

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Author Jesse Pollans is from Highland Park, Ill. and currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He writes for The Daily Cardinal, a student newspaper on campus. In his free time, Jesse enjoys running, playing basketball, and reading.

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