Summer Internships are like Ugly Bookstores

Posted on Friday, Jul 08, 2016

It was a beautiful, sunlit, Saturday afternoon on the vibrant and fragrant streets of the D.C. Eastern Market. My roommate and I had just finished stuffing our faces with gourmet pizza for a late lunch, and we were browsing the local farmer’s market with freshly scooped gelato at hand. As we turned the corner, we came across a hole-in-the-wall bookstore by the modest name of Capitol Hill Books. My roommate mentioned that this shop was actually quite well known amongst the book-lovers community, and that we should take a look. Upon entry, we witnessed what I would like to call a perfectionist’s nightmare.

Every nook and cranny of this store was unforgivingly shoved with books of all backgrounds. The only guidance customers received in their scavenging were little white scraps of paper sticking out from the shelves that vaguely described the genre space (i.e. the graciously named section, Recommended from Rehab by Lindsay Lohan). If you were there to find something more specific than something on the NYT Best Seller List, you were going to be at a complete loss. However, if you were there for a good ol’ literary treasure hunt, this was the place for you. My roommate and I browsed the bookstore for a solid hour, finding quirky reads about zombie survival, feminism in fairy tales, and a man’s life-long documentation of his dreams. The confusion and unpredictability of this three-story madhouse was truly enjoyable, and in a way, entirely reflective of my time thus far as a young intern in Washington, D.C.

Summer internships are like ugly bookstores (or a box of chocolates, take your pick); you never know what you’re going to get. But instead of picking up a book on zombie survival, you learn how to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. And perhaps you won’t be able to find a book on fairy tale feminism, but I sure did learn a lot about how women professionals act with confidence and poise from my office. Finally, while there is no opportunity to divulge in a man’s 100-page excerpt on his dreams, I did network with amazing mentors who showed me how to accomplish mine.

An internship isn’t a tunnel-vision experience where you do what you’re told and leave at the end of the day. It is an informal education, where it is very rare for someone to neatly and alphabetically label everything you need to know. The learning experience is equally continuous and chaotic, and it is your job to cherry-pick what lessons (or books) are truly worth your time. And while you may not always find what you first had in mind, you are given all the opportunity in the world to discover something even more amazing along the way.

Barbara Tsao
American Public Human Services Association (APHSA)
Washington, D.C.