by Erika Murphy
Despite the fact that I have a reassuring advisor and a relaxed father, I caught the contagious what-am-I-doing-with-my-life anxiety early on last year. Weekly internship updates had started coming. New to the English major, I suddenly felt pressure to determine the path from sophomore year to ultimate career. And so, I did what they tell us to: I headed to Career Services straightaway to make an appointment. It turns out I could have just called, but I didn’t mind the extra few steps; fall in Portland is invigorating, an aspect of the Pacific Northwest that I miss here in Spain.
I met with Amanda Wheaton, our past CAS Internship Coordinator. I have yet to meet Elizabeth Ostapeck, our new coordinator, but I expect we’ll get to know each other well come spring. As much as I want to allow the wind to blow me where it may, I am just not that person. I started planning for college in fourth grade and I haven’t stopped mentally arranging the future since. Amanda and I met each week, Friday mornings. Neither mid-term exams nor flooding stopped us– thanks to Amanda’s graciousness, my anxieties, and the library study rooms. Each week I had a list of goals, both short-term and long-term. Not to worry, I’ve since realized that this degree of preparation is unnecessary and indeed excessive. The thing about job boards is that they scroll continuously. Just as I’d feel relief as I neared the list’s end, the site would load a dozen more entries. I realized that there are as many potential jobs as there are minutes to peruse.
As an English and Spanish double major, I will never struggle from the confines of a too-narrow field. This is why I felt pulled from the School of Education toward CAS. However, the responsibility has fallen on me to discover what lends value to the world and what value I can contribute to it. The time I spent on job boards, instead of with Richard II for Dr. Asarnow’s Shakespeare class, for example, was well worth it because I was allowed room to think constructively about my future. Rather than wait for the perfect job to jump out, I brainstormed. Under Amanda’s guidance, I bulleted the skills I hoped to gain. With list in hand, which always makes me feel more confident, I rejected and selected applications with more ease.
Six months later, I ultimately opted for an internship never entered on a board, indeed the best kind. I committed to the Interns for Justice program through the Moreau Center. Lindie Burgess is a phenomenal lady who coordinates the service-learning internship, using private funding, for a small cohort of students. We independently chose our placement sites and committed to at least eight weeks of hands-on service. In addition, we composed weekly blog posts, read books and articles, and created a final presentation to wrap it all up. It was admittedly a significant time commitment. I began the day after the semester finished, a fact I regretted about three weeks in. The flip side to the exhaustion, however, was deep fulfillment.
I spent my summer at Roosevelt High School, home to an outdated reputation of students destined to fail. The community rightly worries about their students because the majority has experienced undue familial hardship. Although I could provide various job descriptions to summarize my time, my primary focus was mentorship. I led excursions and instructed workshops in writing, Adobe, and publishing, but none of that is what I wrote about in my blog. Instead, Lindie wanted to know about sitting on the couch in the writing center, and sifting through neurology books with a student in Powell’s. These moments might be considered unproductive in the average internship, but here my goal was to build relationship. Rather than stand in front of the class, I sat in it. I sought solidarity. I got some comments about being white and young (who knew?) but I felt welcomed into a community that first week.
From the experience, I’ve carried forward a single element present throughout the year that is indeed unnecessary: the stress. I fretted to secure the internship, and continued to feel the pressure within it. Anxiety tends to increase exponentially. I regret the energy lent to worry. There is no right internship, nor a right path to find one. Rather, there is balance. As I begin the search anew, I seek equilibrium between challenge and fulfillment.