Drowning in distress and trying to stay afloat

Graphic by Wednesday LaPlante

One student’s contemplation on juggling school, work and the possibility of unpaid internships

Picture it: you’re sitting in class, minding your business, waiting for your professor to walk in and begin the lesson. Maybe you’re scrolling through Instagram, maybe you’re cramming for your test. And all the while, you hear your fellow classmates discuss their internships. You panic, mid-scroll, realizing you will eventually have to take on an internship as well in order to graduate.

This is almost the exact reaction I had. As students, our main goal after we get our degree is to find a job. But sometimes, before that, we have to get an internship. In my journalism program, we have had multiple guest lecturers—both current and past students—discuss their experience in the program, and inevitably they mention their internships. These internships, like most, were unpaid. Despite their enthusiastic discussion of internships, I noticed none of these guest lecturers mentioned handling a part-time job as well.

I’ve had the same part-time job for five years now, and it has been grand. I’ve gotten a few raises over the years and, despite some bad days, I like my job. At the end of the day, it keeps me afloat. It allows me to pay my bills, put food in my stomach and, sometimes, treat myself to a night out with friends or new clothes. But I can’t imagine having to give up my part-time job in order to take on an unpaid internship. It would make it hard to afford anything at all.

How am I supposed to deal with going to school during the day, commuting home to do homework, then attending my part-time job for more than eight hours several times a week? For my own mental health, I’d also like to somehow manage a social life amidst all this. And then, on top of all that, I have to take on an internship that is unpaid, likely working the same number of hours as a full-time paid employee. Where am I supposed to squeeze that into my packed schedule?

Listen, I understand that it’s part of student life. And I, for one, am well aware of my privilege and how easy I have it. I still live at home with my mom. I have a car. I work a part-time job that’s close to home. I know there are lots of other students who have it a lot harder; those who work full-time jobs to pay for school and rent and food and sometimes even the needs of their relatives or children.

But that’s precisely my point. How am I, or anyone else who encounters the hurdles of student life, supposed to deal with the additional burden of an unpaid internship that takes up our time and effort without compensation?

I’m all for internships. The idea that I could work hands-on in my desired field and get a real-life, real-time work experience sounds awesome. It could be fun, exciting and even lead to a real job. But my concern is how time and money fit into all of this; two things that make the world go round. The two things that keep us afloat in life.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


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