Last summer I was hired as an intern for an education advocacy group in Seattle. It was my first time working as an intern and it took me several months to secure one for the summer. I have a year left before graduating from college. Facing a competitive job market after graduation, I decided to join the ranks of the burgeoning intern market to give a shot of protein to my resume.
Quickly, I realized the class wars hiding underneath the surface of internships. I was working as an intern 20 hours a week while holding down 40 hours a week in my grocery store job. Whenever I could, I picked up catering shifts for a local non-profit restaurant. The other interns were younger than me and they enjoyed full social lives on top of our internships. One of them was an intern for a second nonprofit; another was taking a “fun” summer class. Neither of them had jobs. For the duration of the summer, I was driving back and forth to Seattle and the Eastside, working 12 hours a day juggling my Sushi chef job and my Communications internship.
Despite all the hours I was working, most of my paycheck went to paying for the 520 bridge tolls—during the time I spent in my internship, less than three months, I must have spent almost $500 in Good2Go payments. On top of that was all the gas I was consuming driving back and forth. I was exhausted and cranky from working all those hours and whatever free time I had left was used applying energetically for scholarships. My financial aid package does not even cover tuition, and I am terrified of taking on student loan debt.
Every day I would sit next to the impossibly fresh-faced intern next to me and I would taste the green envy in my mouth. I was jealous of her privileged lifestyle and the advantages that come with it. She was a member of a sorority in her school and during the long hot days of that summer, the rest of her day was spent lounging around in the sun. I was mostly stuck in traffic on the way to work in the Eastside, where I was expected to work another eight hours.
Still, I was lucky to have been hired as an intern. I can now use that internship to impress future employers, but the reality was that I was deflated and defeated from the experience. I keep thinking about all the students who will graduate with me next year. Where will they go after college? What about the students who truly cannot work as an intern? Most internships are unpaid. You are lucky to find an internship that pays above minimum wage.
I know a company in one wealthy city that hires almost exclusively friends and family members of their staff. One of their interns was getting paid handsomely. I enjoy success in myself and in others. Unfortunately, this overpaid intern flunked out of his Engineering major and had to change majors the last minute. Lucky for him, he had connections within the company. His academic failure didn’t deter the management from hiring him and placing him on top of the Hire list as soon as he graduates. He is what you would consider a part of the status quo—white, male, affluent. As I was driving back and forth my jobs I caught sight of him on the side of the road and I thought how great it was to be a white male in America. I, on the other hand, an Asian American female, would have work one hundred times harder to even get the chance to answer phones in his company. That job is already taken— by a white, female, affluent member of their exclusive, nepotistic society.