If you’ve ever had that moment of panic where you think “I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” “What am I actually doing?” and so on? Don’t worry, you’re most certainly not alone in this very common life conundrum. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 80% of US college students change their major at least once, and on average today’s university student will change their job at least four times by the time they are 32. All that to say that anyone who tells you they know exactly what they are doing with their lives are either lying to you or lying to themselves.
By the time I finished university I felt I had already changed careers four times and in a way I had. By this stage I had completed three internships in three different fields and my biggest life lesson was more about what I did not enjoy rather than what I did. At the time this made me feel even more lost but looking back I realize these were much more valuable life lessons then anything I learned in a classroom.
Throughout my career as an intern I worked:
First, on a political campaign, where I learned that organizing volunteers was not nearly as rewarding as I imagined, and I decided a career in politics was not for me.
Next, within city government in the Public Relations Office, writing news briefs. There I learned that I was not as good of an editor as I had previously believed, and PR was not a good fit.
Finally, with incoming refugees, assisting in organizing cultural events, managing ESL course and health appointment scheduling and picking up new arrivals up at the airport. I loved it, the tedious editing from city government suddenly did not seem so monotonous when I was reviewing Green Card applications which would have real world application. And the stressful organization of volunteers melted away when it became more of a logistical issue of managing schedules. But the constant heart break of the nonprofit world combined with the daily evening hours eventually wore on me and I knew I needed a better work life balance in my next position.
Throughout my internships I learned more about what I did not want to do, and what types of environments I did not want to work in, and from here I was able to home in on my actual skill set and passions.
So, if you are considering an international internship program, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions in order to truly evaluate what your want to do with your life:
Do you like being able to leave at 5pm sharp and leave work in the office? Or do you like a more flexible schedule? What is more important to you, the office environment or the tasks you’ll be completing? Do you want to travel? And if yes do you have a region in mind or is the job more important than the location?
It is great to maintain a flexible mindset, especially when you are first starting an internship or gaining insight into a field but as you continue through your academic and professional career, keep in mind what is important to you and how you can guide yourself into a role that suits these needs.
This is often the hardest question to answer about ourselves, and the answer sometimes may surprise you. Are you good at multitasking or do you prefer to sit down and devote yourself to one project? Do you prefer to build on the ideas of others in a team setting or present a completed idea for revival? If left on your own for a week without direction from a supervisor are you good at creating your own work or do you prefer a more hands on supervisor?
Knowing what you are good at takes practice, and often trial and error but is one of the most important skills is knowing what areas you excel and in what areas you need more guidance.
Do you like the corporate office culture? Do you prefer the innovative but less structured start up vibe? Are you competitive or relaxed among your peers? Do you like a hierarchical structure, of knowing who is the boss and knowing where to look for instructions, or do you prefer a more cooperative structure?
Similarly, to priorities, figuring out what environment you enjoy takes time, try out different office cultures as your preferred environment may surprise you!
Are you looking to be challenged but often frustrated within your internship? Are you comfortable working in a field outside of your major/ area of expertise? Or are you looking to establish your niche within your field and master one knowledge skill set?
Unfortunately, time is finite. You only have 24 hours in a day to develop your skills so make sure they are skills that important to you!
The best part of an internship and especially an internship abroad is that you can try something new and truly step out of your comfort zone! Try out that challenging work environment, explore an industry sector you do not know that much about, doubt yourself and grow. No internship is going to be perfect, but a good internship will teach you something new about yourself. And the best part, if you still don’t know what you want to do with your life, don’t worry you have your whole life to figure it out.
Program Manager at CRCC Asia