In Praise of Unpaid Internships

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When
I came to Minneapolis
after college, I took an internship at the book publisher Milkweed Editions
while working a paying job as a proofreader for personal ads. (That’s right.
SWMs ISO SWFs need editors, too.) Milkweed gave me a weekly stipend that
covered my lunches and bus fare, but nothing else. It didn’t matter. The
internship paid me in other ways, from experience, to friendship, to a
fortitude that helped me see a future beyond the hundreds of ads for
walks on the beach and candlelight dinners I read every week.

How
valuable are unpaid internships? In The
Oxford American
, Emily Witt critiques Ross Perlin’s book Intern
Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy
and
writes about her move from New York to Arkansas to be an unpaid
intern at The Oxford American
. She
says:

[I]n my nine months in Little
Rock I had some of the most fun I have ever had. A careerist
in my position would have stayed in New
York, would have smiled and combed her hair and made
herself cheerfully obedient, would have pleasantly harassed people until she
got a job, would have been plucky and assertive and enthusiastic and all the
things I was not. I have since become that person, more or less. But back then
I instead went South, gained twenty pounds, got drunk most nights, and made
some very good friends.

Witt,
now an established reporter at the New
York Observer
, continues:

At some point, one wants something that looks like a job, and
the way in is often an unpaid internship. Today I revel in the luxury of paid
employment: the biweekly paychecks deposited to my bank account, the automatic
withholding of taxes, the certainty of a fixed address, the health insurance,
even the routine of my alarm clock and daily commute, the florescent lights
over my cubicle, my desk phone, my business cards–all the usual symbols of
drudgery. Those who can’t do, intern; but it’s also true…that an internship
gives one both an appreciation for the importance of proficiency in the many
banal and thankless aspects of work, and the confidence to insist that such
commitment deserves to be rewarded in kind. 

Check out the rest of Witt’s review and rumination here,
and tell us about your experiences as a poor, unpaid intern in the comments
section below. (We appreciate your reminiscences, but, alas, we can’t pay you
for those either.)

Source: The
Oxford American

Image by _foam, licensed under Creative Commons.

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