The rewarding, fulfilling and stressful reality of summer internships
By Colin Macgillivray, Publishing Editor
At the end of April 2018, I had accepted a summer internship for Black Press in British Columbia. I genuinely had no idea what to expect.
Initially, I felt nothing but relief. After a few stressful months of going over my resumé, my numerous cover letters and my portfolio with a fine-toothed comb, I was grateful to have finally secured a summer position somewhere.
Like a lot of university programs, completing a summer internship is mandatory for graduation, so more than anything, I was honestly just thankful that I would be able to graduate in four years once I locked down an internship. Truth be told, I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that I would be taking over editorial duties for three small-town papers.
When I made what turned out to be nearly an 11-hour drive — I ended up taking an accidental two-hour detour — from Calgary to Vanderhoof, the idea of being away from friends and family for four months was honestly daunting.
Now that might sound ignorant or naive, but being born and raised in Calgary, I had never lived on my own, or been away from my parents for more than a month. On that drive, the reality of my situation set in.
Not only was moving from a city of more than a million people to a town that houses around 4000 a culture shock, I did not anticipate what the reporting work would be like.
At MRU, generally speaking, we have nearly full creative freedom on what we want to report on in the Journalism program. Our deadlines are fairly fluid, as long as they coincide with the course material, so we never truly get a taste of what being a reporter in a small town is like.
So, when I first walked into the Omineca Express, Caledonia Courier and Stuart Nechako Advertiser office in early May, learning that I would be working alone in three communities I was unfamiliar with for nearly four months, I was worried. Three 16-page papers a week might not seem like a lot at first glance, but I know firsthand that there’s nothing fun about transcribing interviews at 2 a.m. so you can meet your 8 a.m. deadline.
Honestly, it was a little silly trusting a 21-year-old to be the sole editor and reporter in three different towns. People have been reading the Express and the Courier for longer than I’ve even been alive. They know what they like to read and it was my job to do the best that I could.
Sometimes it ignites a stronger passion than before or provides a harsh wake up call, giving you an experience that might make you reevaluate your career choice.”
Internships are a fickle thing. They are a necessary component to any university program, often giving students a real taste for their field. Sometimes it ignites a stronger passion than before or provides a harsh wake up call, giving you an experience that might make you reevaluate your career choice.
The fascinating part of my experience in B.C. last summer is that I never once felt like a stranger. I’m not sure why, but I anticipated some standoffish behaviour and I was prepared to build a new relationship with the people of Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James from the ground up.
For a reporter, especially in this day and age, that relationship building can be a long and arduous process. Yet, I don’t feel like I was ever treated any differently.
From the first week, making a phone-call to a complete stranger — who was probably confused as to why someone with a Calgary area code was giving them a call — felt routine.
To my surprise, I was immediately welcomed by the communities. Locals, rather than just answering my questions and moving on, went above and beyond when addressing any issues that were affecting their communities.
From recommending other people to speak to, supplying photographs and additional information, all while remaining pleasant and helpful — especially when I was still learning about the happenings of British Columbia’s central interior — the hundreds of locals (from Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James) went above and beyond to ensure my stay there was problem free.
The First Nations communities that I visited were also incredibly helpful over the course of the summer. They allowed me to peer into some very unique and special communities, while furthering my understanding of the ongoing issues that Indigenous peoples face.
In short, what started out as a nerve-filled adventure 10-hours from home transformed into an unforgettable experience. As a young reporter just starting his career, the skills I’ve developed working in a one-person newsroom are invaluable.
As a person, experiencing a completely different way of life just 10-hours away is an irreplaceable experience — it’s something I will honestly never forget.
Ultimately, this long winded tangent is about giving your internship a shot and to never get discouraged if you don’t secure the exact position you want. I never thought that I would have to move to a town called Vanderhoof, of all things, just so I could get my degree.
It was definitely a stressful four months, but in the end, it was the best possible internship I could have taken. It challenged me, both personally and professionally and really opened my eyes to the world of communication in a completely different way.
Long story short, embrace your internship, no matter what you get, because they can honestly be so much more than just something you need to finish to graduate.