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It’s that time of year. School is back in session, everyone’s trying to keep their New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, and Career Ser­vices is sending you emails asking if you’ve applied for summer intern­ships. 

Intern­ships have incredible value. Pro­fes­sional expe­rience prior to full-fledged employment rounds out your resume and shows your com­mitment to learning about a pro­fes­sional field you wish to enter. 

But, freshmen and sopho­mores don’t need to launch their careers just yet. For­going the summer internship in favor of entry-level jobs is an excellent option. 

At the end of my freshman year, I moved to my family’s tiny trailer in Priest Lake, Idaho and worked at The Leonard Paul Store, the general store that has served the south end of the lake for more than a century. At the end of my sophomore year, I worked on The Anchor, which is a houseboat that had been con­verted to a food truck on water. 

Both were unique expe­ri­ences and are def­i­nitely con­ver­sation starters. And both jobs also taught me skills important in the pro­fes­sional work­place. 

At the general store, I learned how to interact with cus­tomers, dealing with angry “Karens” who felt entitled to the perfect vacation and thus screamed when their huck­le­berry pan­cakes took longer than 30 seconds to cook. On the boat, I learned how to keep my cool in extra­or­dinary cir­cum­stances, like when we were in rough waters trying to hold cus­tomers’ boats without losing a hand or getting smashed between our pontoon and their bow.

Those jobs are directly related to my success in my summer intern­ships. As an intern for a minor league baseball team, I knew just how to deal with those who didn’t follow COVID-19 guide­lines in the ballpark. When issues with ticket sales arose, I knew just how to calm down the angry “Karen” on the phone. I could have per­formed decently well without my prior work expe­rience, but it was those entry-level jobs that made me that much better.

These entry-level jobs also shifted my per­spective about the world at large. 

At the general store, I served tourists and locals. The vaca­tioners were often upper middle class with money to spare. They bought t‑shirts, ice cream, and fishing licenses. On the other hand, the locals often lived pay­check to pay­check. Some came in like clockwork for their nightly pack of Schlitz and a take-and-bake pizza. Others were forest rangers coming down from their mountain posts to stock up on sup­plies. 

We often grow up cocooned in our own little worlds, our parents intent on pro­tecting us from the harsh real­ities of life. I did. But, working at the lake stripped a lot of that away and showed me the dif­fer­ences in life status and oppor­tu­nities. 

Summer intern­ships can cocoon us even more. It takes a certain priv­ilege to work many of them. Most are unpaid and the cost of living in cities with high-profile oppor­tu­nities is high. Those lower on the socio-eco­nomic scale have a harder time par­tic­i­pating in them because of those factors. 

As a result, most of the people you encounter in the pro­fes­sional world are about the same: college-edu­cated and middle class or higher. That’s not a bad thing. But, those in the pro­fes­sional world are often more con­cerned with the next pro­motion than if they can put food on the table. 

When this level of socio-eco­nomic status is what we’re exposed to, one can think that it’s the norm. That the “real world” is the pro­fes­sional world.

But it’s not. When you work an entry-level job, you’re intro­duced to all sorts of people. It teaches you that the “real world” is much less elite than you think, and more matters in life than the next pro­fes­sional pro­motion. 

You’re at just the right age to do some­thing dif­ferent and unique. So work at the camp you always went to as a kid, or as a barista at that coffee shop in your hometown that you’ve always loved, or pump gas for boats at the resort your family always vaca­tioned at. Any of these kinds of jobs will prepare you for the pro­fes­sional world, teach you a few things, and result in a lot of fun summer mem­ories.

 

Regan Meyer is a senior studying rhetoric and public address.