Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Change of plans

Everyone and their mother (literally) has read the recent article from the New York Times, "Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say," by Steven Greenhouse. My fellow schoolmates, many of whom are unpaid interns in the fashion industry like me, and I have laughed about how our parents called us after reading the article, demanding that we seek compensation from our employers. The Ivy League student that "spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoot" was close to home for many of us.

It's funny because, well, none of us would dare ask our employers for compensation. The fashion industry is all about paying your dues, and the internship opportunities are more apprenticeship than internship -- your job is to make your boss' job easier. You definitely learn a lot and you learn to think for others.

"It's not enough to be booksmart. It's even more important to be able to do the smallest menial tasks with full competence," said my mother, when I was helping her sort files last summer.

The truth is, though, it can get expensive being an unpaid intern. When I was interning for Seventeen, the summer before my senior year of high school, I spent over $2,000 on summer housing, not including my budget for food and transportation.

This upcoming summer, I am interning for a fashion magazine in Beijing, China -- unpaid, too. My mother just called me to inform me that plane tickets will cost about $2,000, and that doesn't even include housing, transportation, and food in Beijing, one of the most expensive cities in China today.

"We support you, but this will be the last summer that you're allowed to do anything unpaid," she said.

Understandable. After all, I go to school in New York City and I can do all the unpaid internships that I want during the school year, without any additional financial burden on my parents.

Additionally, I understand how my parents feel -- my friends who are interning in the finance industry are making about $10,000 this summer. They have comparatively much less experience in the finance industry than I do in the fashion industry, but I am unpaid and will most likely always be unpaid as an intern.

The truth is, this system is not fair to students. Many students cannot intern at all because they cannot afford to -- because they're working part-time jobs to pay for college. However, for every intern who is unwilling or unable to work unpaid, there will be ten interns who are willing to. And it continues.

I've learned a lot in my internships, and I wholeheartedly believe in making sacrifices to achieve your dreams -- but my parents end up being the ones making the financial sacrifices. And that's not fair to them.

So, I don't know what I'm going to do about future internships. I am going to continue to intern during the next three school years, but I can't work full time in the summer after this upcoming summer anymore. Is this going to hinder my fashion magazine dreams? Will it appear that I am less dedicated?

Well, I think summers should be used to explore new things. So, this summer I am improving my Chinese, working at a Chinese fashion magazine (unpaid), and exploring China. Next summer? Perhaps I will put my business and analytical skills to work and try to get a consulting internship. Or try my hand at finance. During the school year, I will continue to intern in fashion and try to learn as much as I can.

So, Mum, there you have it. Hope this compromise appeases you. And while I was initially frustrated that this basically shuts me off from all the summer magazine internships in the city, this may just be an excuse for me to explore the world and learn even more things to complete my education.

Miss Couturable

P.S. What is the best internship you've ever had? And what was the best thing you've ever done for a summer?
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