By Jyhjong Hwang, Second-year International Development Student
Even before arriving in China, my summer internship experience had taken a lot of twists. For a long time I was fixated on interning with IPA – unfortunately to no avail. Later, I learned that a fellow IDEV student, who had been offered two positions, was going to turn down an offer from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Beijing office. Since he was unable to take the position, he graciously passed along my information for consideration.
After a month of waiting for a response, I decided to stop hoping. I plunged into SAISWorks and submitted an application for an agribusiness consulting company named GIC in Alexandria. I got an interview offer the next day and was accepted on the spot. My decision became complicated when I cleaned out my junkmail box and found IFPRI’s reply from a week or two before letting me know they were interested in taking me on. Imagine how torn I felt.
Rather than turn down either opportunity, I decided to take a creative approach. I knew that GIC specializes in food safety in China and had a conference coming up in Beijing in June. I sent a letter to GIC asking if they would be interested in letting me telecommute from Beijing, which would allow me to help with event planning tasks in-country. My boss at GIC agreed and I juggled two internships over the summer.
From my experience, I would recommend that 1st year IDEV students start their internship search early. The challenge is that many organization and companies don’t start thinking about their summer interns until April or May. We all want to have our internships settled in March - but that’s our priority, not necessarily the priority of our prospective employers.
Another dilemma you will likely face is what to do when you have more than one internship offer. The IDEV department asks you to honor your word, but it’s hard to know what to do when you get multiple offers at once. The bottom line is: if you accept an offer, you should stick to it. If you have two offers and need to make a decision, you should respond as soon as possible instead of waiting until the last minute when the organization has already turned their other applicants away. Although I was able to maneuver in such a way that I could take advantage of two opportunities, it probably won’t be possible for everyone.
Overall, here are the lessons I learned from my internship experience:
- Lesson 1: Don’t get fixated. Cast a big net and keep applying.
- Lesson 2: Jump into SAISWorks listings right away. They are frequently offered by SAIS alums, which will give you a leg-up compared to other positions you find on your own.
- Lesson 3: Ask your classmates and professors for possible leads.
- Lesson 4: Just because an organization doesn’t have any internships posted on their website, that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to take on interns. If you’re interested in working for somebody, reach out an initiate the process.
- Lesson 5: There is no such thing as too may internship offers. You can always politely turn them down in a timely manner.
- Lesson 6: CHECK YOUR JUNKMAIL FOLDER DAILY
- Lesson 7: Visas take time. Plan ahead and start right away.
(Edited by Sean Griffin, IDEV Internship Student Coordinator)