5 Life Lessons I Learnt from my Internship Abroad


Last summer, I had the trip of a lifetime when I was offered an internship in San Francisco with a non-profit organization who’s mandate dealt with everything I believed in and loved. I had spent most of my life growing up in one of the suburbs of Vancouver, and coming from a low-income household, never really had the opportunity to travel – inside or outside of Canada. Hence, I was beyond excited to fly across the country to sunny California to get to work!

Internships are a priceless experience. Not only do they provide you with the opportunity to learn employable skills (ex. leadership, database management, social media, etc), but also opens you up to the support networks of individuals that may be interested in similar areas as you are. Travelling allows you to explore different places, meet different people, and be inspired by different things. And writing and sharing these experiences are a way to reflect and bounce ideas – to immortalize things I don’t ever want to forget. Happy things. Inspiring things. Things that are worth remembering.

But this entry isn’t about what I did during my internship. It isn’t about how to find the right internship, or the skill sets or programs you need to know to excel at internships (although I might cover this later on!). This entry is about what I’ve learnt, in terms of life lessons, during my period abroad. Because internships are much more than simply getting work experience for a resume – they can provide a different perspective on the way you view the world.

Lesson #1: It is never too late for anything.

My roommate in San Francisco was my inspiration, my hero. He was living proof of the strength of the human will against hardship and adversity.

My roommate had one of the most difficult, yet inspiring life stories. He had grown up in a low-income, single parent household, with over 10 brothers and sisters. During his high school years, he was often suspended from school for picking fights and skipping his classes. Around the time he was 16-17, his mother, sick of his antics, personally deported him out of the United States by buying a one way ticket for a “trip” and pickpocketing his US passport out of his luggage case so he would not be able to return. A few years later, he made his way back to the United States, but ended up briefly in jail for a short period of time for something minor, before deciding that he wanted to turn his life around. He decided to give up a few years of his life to the military, such that he would be able to fund the post secondary education he had always dreamed of – to study photography. Today, he is almost done his photography degree at one of the best art schools in San Francisco.

Although not everyone may have such an incredible personal narrative, I really want to stress that it’s never too late to start or do anything. I started McGill with a Bachelor’s of Arts, before deciding that I loved my science courses much more. Despite most people telling me faculty transfers were impossible and to just finish my degree, I worked hard during my first year such that I would be able to transfer. Ignore what everyone else says, and go with what you love. Eventually, everything will work itself out.

Lesson #2: Surround yourself with positivity, George Clooney Style

George Clooney once said that he stays happy by keeping happy people close by. My roommate had said that as well – that there was no point in putting so much effort into people that would only tear him apart or bring him down.

Have a solid support system to fall back to whenever you’re down. After all, with midterms and finals, projects, papers, extracurriculars, work, volunteering, applications, social life, and (hopefully) sleep – there’s simple no time to delve on negativity.

Lesson #3: Be persistent. 

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)

When I first was applying for jobs during early undergrad, no one wanted me. It was the ultimate Catch 22 – no one would hire me because I lacked work experience, yet I could not get work experience because no one was willing to hire me. Hence, I set my mind on obtaining relevant work experience – actively participating in various clubs on campus, volunteering whenever I could, and consistently emailing out resumes to all job openings. Persistence does pay off – I went from getting 2 replies out of 20 resumes (both no), to 4 replies out of 5 resumes (3 yes) later in undergraduate.

In today’s society, simply having an education will not get you very far. My best advice (from personal experience), is to find what you love and interests you, and throw yourself at it. Relentlessly. Because the things you love, are also the things you’d be willing to work the hardest on. And the initiatives and programs that coincide with your interests also force you to learn new skillsets (ex. logistics, room bookings, monitoring listservs, club finances, etc) that may be useful later on in life.

Lesson #4: Cherish the friendships you make abroad. 

The day I left San Francisco was probably my saddest day last summer. I had fell completely in love with the city, the carefree attitude of the people, my work, and my roommates whom had become like a second family. However, a friend had said one thing that I will always remember:

The world is a very small place for those who work in the same field.

Because the people that you work with now, that share similar interests with you, and that you keep bumping into again and again at conferences, classes or or various academic events, are also the same people you may be working with in the future. Stay connected with the people you meet, and the friends you make – you never know what will happen in the future. It’s au revoir, not adieu.

Lesson #5: Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day.

I think the month I spent far away from anything or anyone I would consider home kept me really grounded about reality. And I really like that – it was a simple life. Wake up every morning to do something you love, work at it at every waking hour, and come home to a warm household with loving roommates. Nothing in between.

There’s a street musician that plays the drums outside the Embarcadero Ferry Building near the pier in San Francisco. His whole “drum” set is made up of trash – garbage bins, empty pots and containers, etc. But his beats are absolutely stunning – high quality music using the cheapest, dirtiest material. His salary is whatever people choose to donate to his bin. I realized then that he is probably the epitome of everything I want to be in the future. Relentlessly doing what you love passion and enthusiasm, everyday. Brilliant at what he does. Proving to the world that regardless of what others may think, regardless of how crappy his equipment is, true talent will always shine through. And nothing, not even socioeconomic status, can hide it.

That’s how I want to live my life in the future. With audacity.

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