The tragic truth is that I have had to wait until the fifth week of my internship to start this blog. I attribute a fair portion of this tardiness to my foolish negligence, but a decent quantity of blame can be laid upon my circumstances. Once you read the story of how my internship came to be, I think you will forgive me.
Venture back in time with me to November 2015, when I first began sending out applications for a summer internship. I must have sent upwards of forty or fifty applications and resumes to various law firms, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and company programs in New York City; Columbus, Ohio; Ann Arbor, MI; Boston, MA; and Washington, DC. By March, just about NO ONE had gotten back to me. One company in Columbus had me do an online testing module, but they did not realize that I was hoping for a temporary summer position and suggested I reach out to them again after I graduate. Kind, but unhelpful.
In my determination to avoid yet another dreary summer waitressing in hometown Grand Rapids, I did what any courageous college student would do: I started cold-calling companies. Inhibitions aside, I googled “NYC International Law Firm” and “Washington DC International Trade,” among other similar phrases. Sifting through the staff directories, I began dialing office directors and managers. My approach was kind and clear. I would simply introduce myself as an undergraduate student from the University of Michigan who was wondering if their office could benefit from a summer intern.
Now, I am sure that there are a fair number of you out there who are completely aghast that I would take such brazen action. Think about it, though. Worst case scenario: they angrily say no, but have no memory of me since they have seen neither my face, nor my resume. Best case scenario: they say yes and I have an internship! So I endured some uncomfortable phone calls, but also enjoyed some friendly ones. Turns out, CEOs and government officials respect you way more when you have the audacity to straight call them, despite the fact that you are 20 years old and have basically no experience.
Anywho, the sad truth is that even cold-calling appeared unproductive. By the time May 10th rolled around, the semester had been over for nearly two weeks and I was in Chicago, about to fly to Berlin for three weeks with Cru, the Christian organization for which I am a student leader at U of M. My hope had been to go directly from Berlin to Washington DC, with a quick pit stop in Grand Rapids to appease the parents. Unfortunately, I still had no internship waiting for me in DC, or anywhere else for that matter, and the three months after Berlin remained a black hole of uncertainty.
The heavens opened on May 11th, at 11:45 am, approximately one hour before our flight to Berlin. In the airport, I looked down at my phone to find that I had a missed call and voicemail message…area code 202–Washington DC! I immediately attended to that voicemail: “Hello, Amy. This is Joe Flynn…”
Joseph Flynn is the Director of the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis of the International Trade Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Of all the internships and companies to which I applied, this was by far my first choice. It would mean a summer living in DC, learning the ins-and-outs of U.S. government politics, and working alongside world-class economists on international issues. The funny, yet awkward, truth was that my roommate, an English major, was also most excited about this internship for me, but she was more interested in my possible Director’s name: Joe Flynn. She felt that his name had great literary potential and vowed to someday write a character with that name. Thus, poor Joseph became somewhat famous in our Ann Arbor apartment. (I am still working on a non-creepy way to tell him about this.) Regardless, I knew EXACTLY who Joe Flynn was when he called, despite the fact that it had been a month since I left him a message.
After listening to Joe’s message, I immediately called him back. The gist of our conversation and his voicemail was that he had meant to reply to me over a month ago, when I originally contacted him, but had lost track of my message until now. His office does not normally take undergraduate interns because the complicated mathematical economics with which they engage typically requires at least a Master of Economics. However, since I showed such zeal in contacting him directly and he took so long to respond, he said he would consider me. My three weeks in Germany was a perfect time frame for him to pass my resume around the office and see if there wasn’t something that I could actually work on, despite my level of education.
Thus, forty minutes before my flight, I frantically forwarded Director Flynn an email I had sent to myself with my resume attached. They did indeed have a firm-level Mergers & Acquisition project to offer me. I got back from Berlin on June 2nd, spent a week in Grand Rapids hunting for a DC apartment and buying yet another plane ticket, and found myself in Washington starting an internship at the U.S. Department of Commerce on June 12th.
What. A wild. Ride.
Even five weeks in, I can barely believe that I am actually here. I am working with PhD- and Masters-level economists for the U.S. government. I live a mile from the President of the United States. The building in which I work covers two city blocks. I was greeted in the hall by the Under Secretary of Commerce the other day. I toured the Capitol last Friday.
And all because I left a voicemail on Joseph Flynn’s telephone.
I do not care who you are, how bad your grades are, or how many people have labeled you a failure. If I can get the internship of a lifetime by dumb luck, gusto, and pure faith, so can you!
There have been a couple of significant challenges in my internship, which I foresaw. First, I knew zero people in this city besides Joseph Flynn before I got here. I am 94% extroverted, according to Meyer’s Briggs, and I have been pretty dang lonely. Through intern networking events and finding friends of friends, I have been able to develop a pretty solid little community of people here in DC. But it took time and it was difficult to be patient. However, I learned a lot about myself and what it means to be an independent adult during my solitude. Don’t get me wrong, I will never again live alone if I can help it, but I am thankful for this interesting challenge and the lessons I have gleaned from it.
The second notable obstacle was my inexperience with U.S. government structure. Although I study government back at Michigan, I had never been to DC and it has become clear that I know far less than I thought about the interworkings of our government. There have been some awkward moments and misunderstandings since I have been here, but my coworkers offer me quite a bit of grace and I am learning quickly. By the time I leave, I will be a near expert on government politics and hopefully have some idea of which area of the government I might enjoy pursuing a career.
Photo Credit: https://nextdaybetter.com/event/nextdaybetterdc/