Intern Internment

by Zeke Turner | 4/23/07 8:17am

In 2004, filmmaker Sergio Arau asked America a simple question: What would happen if you took all the Latinos out of California? Arau posited a guess with "A Day Without a Mexican."

We can easily imagine what would happen if all the Latinos disappeared from California. For that matter, it would not be too hard to imagine what would happen if every wage-working immigrant in America went missing.

I selfishly wish that Arau had made his movie about interns instead. What would happen if you took all the unpaid interns out of New York City? Now that is a movie I would take time to see.

Immigrants and interns are not often mentioned in the same breath but, as an intern, I feel a certain solidarity with the immigrants that surround me in the melting pot of New York City.

Our generation has cast aside jobs as camp counselors and busboys to instead sort corporate America's mail. This in an attempt to put a couple of lines on our resumes to make the words "Dartmouth College" really sparkle (or to divert our attention from the omission of our GPAs).

Since I have left my friends and professors in Hanover and returned home to intern, I have found it hard to be optimistic all the time (maybe I should be traveling instead). All my intern gloom goes away when I behold the romantic sacrifice of the American immigrant.

One stormy morning last week, I asked my Polish housekeeper how hard it was raining outside. She told me I needed an umbrella, and I rolled my eyes, saying I would rather miss work than go out in the rain.

"Work?" she asked skeptically. "But you're a student."

How should I explain the idea of an internship to her? "It's not a real job, Krystyna; it's just for experience." She still looked confused so I rethought my words. "I only make $10 a day."

She broke into a grin. "My job is better than that!" I left that morning with the sound of her laughter still ringing in my ears.

As an intern, I expect people to laugh at me. Nobody has any respect for interns; they are at the rock bottom of any professional hierarchy. The masochist inside of me - and Skip Sturman - thinks that interning balances my willy-nilly Ivy League classroom scholarship with solid professional experience (which is correct). And yet, I still cannot help feel that the dullness of internships might cause my brain to rot. I blame this suffering on my professors.

Our professors imagine that our brains are weapons. I imagine that mine is a death ray. At Dartmouth, I feel like I am using my death ray to capacity, writing poetry, mastering the cello, solving mathematical riddles, translating Catullus and pursuing other "lonely acts," just as the late College President James O. Freeman would have wanted.

As an intern, I cannot help but feel that my death ray is being wasted scanning coupons at a supermarket. How can I do something practical like work when I feel like I should be cultivating my mind?

At the end of the day, we interns work for little to no money because we know there is another half-educated, resume-wielding twerp willing take our spot, waiting right behind us, and any deliveryman in New York City knows that if he did not show up for work, there would be somebody else willing to do his job, and his absence would be little more than an inconvenience for the person who hired him.

Interns and immigrants also understand the value of completing unfulfilling work for future benefits.

Jose, the young man who handles the trash and Windexes the mirrors in my building, once told me that before he came to America, he was training to be a pharmacist. Since arriving in America, doing unskilled labor has provided Jose with immediate money, and he probably anticipates that his children will benefit from his hard work. Or maybe he will just save some money and buy an iPod. Either way, he is living the American dream.

In their own way, internships possess a special dreamlike power; they allow us to test the waters of our future. If our death ray temporarily gets laid to waste on a foreign shore, so be it.

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