“Was it worth it?”: How I survived five internships during my final semester at uni
HOW does someone manage five internships, university study and a social life all at once? Vondra Tay shares her story of getting work experience while studying abroad in Melbourne.
“How on earth are you finding time for uni?”
This was the question I get asked the most throughout this entire semester when people found out I was doing five internships on top of uni. But let’s back track a little…
Everyday in the classes during my studies, lecturers and tutors would incessantly remind my classmates and I that the first step to landing an internship, let alone an actual job, was to simply put yourself out there. But I was naive and confident enough to believe that purely completing my degree in journalism would help land me a job in Melbourne.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Students every year send out applications for internships, cadetships and voluntary positions everywhere, hoping that any kind of experience they land in these roles will benefit their career prospects in the long run. Needless to say, getting work experience is highly competitive and in an arena where students are fighting it out with one another over an unpaid gig, I personally felt that being an international student made it more of an uphill battle.
For the industry that I wanted to work in, language is everything and sometimes I felt my struggle partly came down to perhaps a generalised misconception of international students not being able to speak English as fluently as the locals. Of course, other international students might experience different problems in getting work experience altogether (for example, residency status might determine where you stand in the priority queue for internship allocation at certain companies and organisations).
I wanted a chance at one internship, but I got way more than I bargained for and before I knew it, I was knee deep in… everything.
But I didn’t want to let those perceived misconceptions get me down. Yes, it can sometimes be a struggle as an international student applying for jobs and internships in a foreign country but for a majority of us, we are also extremely hard-working — traits ingrained to us by our own cultures and societies.
Being ‘Kiasu’ (a Singaporean term for being scared to lose out), I sent my resumes everywhere and grasped at whatever opportunity I could get my hands on. I researched companies I was really keen to work for, fine-tuned my resume, compiled a portfolio with all of my best work, and sent it all out. I had all of my fingers crossed, and then I waited.
Within a short span of a week, I began hearing back from interested companies. An online magazine? Uh, yes! Time Out Melbourne? Big yes! ABC News Breakfast? I’m definitely in!
I wanted a chance at one internship, but I got way more than I bargained for and before I knew it, I was knee deep in… everything. I was waking up at 4.00am every morning to head off to work for a news breakfast show, then I either had to run off to uni for my classes, or to my next internship lined up later in the day.
I was exhausted and would come home only to take a nap before prepping for the next day. On days where I had some spare time, I would be rushing to meet my assignment deadlines. I didn’t have much of a social life, but I wasn’t complaining — I had been granted so many great opportunities people would kill for, and all have been extremely rewarding and eye-opening.
That is, until I realised that everything was slowly taking a toll on me.
Of course, getting work experience from five different places all at once during your final semester is certainly not for everyone.
I had branded bags that I could only dream of having, hanging from under my tired eyes, and resorted to drinking coffee regularly – even though I’m not a huge fan – just to stay awake. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone or let anyone down — not my teachers, my employers, my family, or my friends. Everything felt like a juggling act and I had to stay on top of my game.
But it can’t be all that bad… can it? Should students be saying yes to everything for the sake of their future careers? Perhaps ask me in a few years but right now, I would like to think that the hours committed and free time I’ve sacrificed has made for a worthy investment so far.
Of course, getting work experience from five different places all at once during your final semester is certainly not for everyone. For students who are up to the challenge however, or for those who are about to experience what I did, understand that although these opportunities may be for a good cause, you should also know when to take the pressure off if you can’t handle it. Take it easy, try not to bite off more than you can actually chew and understand what your limits are — mental and physical anguish shouldn’t take precedence over your career goals.
Remember to take time off, even if it’s for one day. Trust me, it makes a lot of difference. Spend the day out catching up with your friends, or just stay at home in your comfy PJs binge-watching Stranger Things.
Simply put, your university life should be enriching and fun, even while you’re working; decide how much time you can manage between all your responsibilities and commitments and when you can, really bask in your time as an overseas student because your time abroad could end up being the best experience of your life.
As of writing, I’m onto my last week of university and I don’t know exactly how to feel. I’m excited for the future, and I guess it’s only normal that I’m also terrified for what’s to come. But that’s all part of stepping into the unknown and growing up.
In other words, can someone please hire me?