Doyle ’18: In defense of simpler summers

Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I distinctly remember posing for my mother in my new suit at the end of May, looking like a little girl playing dress up in business attire. Her smartphone camera flashed a few times, and within moments the picture of her high-achieving daughter awaiting the first day of her summer internship was on display for all of our friends and family on Facebook to see. I was excited to work in a real law firm, to see if my newfound passion could be my future career. Still, it all felt like a bit of a charade.

A few minutes later, my boss, my uncle, arrived in my driveway to escort me to my first day. I hadn’t done anything special to deserve the opportunity; I had merely made a phone call and asked for some work experience. It wasn’t a job of much prestige, but it would earn me enough money to fund my burrito habit through the school year. Yet I couldn’t help the pangs of jealousy and inadequacy I felt as I scrolled through my newsfeed, watching my classmates assist at orphanages in Africa or work for big-shot politicians. I wondered if anyone felt the same way about a small job, but I strongly doubted it.

There is tremendous pressure on Brown students to make good use of their summers. In case you forget, the Center for Careers and Life After Brown is sure to send you dozens of emails a week reminding you to build a resume, check out new internships, fill out surveys and submit your summer story to inspire your fellow students. And it isn’t just CareerLAB there to remind you. As soon as April hits, your classmates bombard you with questions of “What are you doing this summer?” And everyone knows the unspoken rule that “nothing” is not an acceptable answer.

Back in middle school, summer was the ultimate paradise: a break from the grueling hours of school, a time to sleep late and watch cartoons. But for high school students vying for a spot at an elite college and college students working toward a job after graduation, the summer can be even more backbreaking than the academic year. Of course, it’s in the best interest of institutions like Brown to encourage students to get meaningful experiences during the summer. A richer resume can open doors to more elite careers and an overall better reputation for the University. But what are we giving up in return?

It’s important to realize that elite internships are simply impossible for many students. They often end up costing families money on transportation and meals while providing no compensation. The summer can be a vital time for students to earn money to contribute toward their tuition costs, and unpaid internships can be unfeasible. One student at Georgetown University estimated the cost of living in Washington D.C. for a summer intern to be a whopping $3,585!  Take into account the opportunity lost to make another $3,500 at a full-time minimum wage job and you’re looking at a potential deficit of over $7,000. That’s about 13 percent of a typical Rhode Island family’s income, and all but impossible for a lower-income family to afford. Furthermore, many internships require students to relocate to a new town or city for the summer. As a freshman with fragile mental health, the thought of spending both the academic year and summer apart from my family and home was unbearable. Plus, many internships are highly competitive, and application processes can be subjective. Put bluntly, someone will always have what you consider a “better” opportunity than you.

But you are not defined by your summer activities. Do not be fooled by the rapid influx of Facebook profile pictures of your peers holding impoverished children from small villages across the world. Your classmates making flashy shows of their accomplishments are worried they might be inadequate, too. As bestselling author and pastor Steve Furtick once said, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” The line between the awe-inspiring word “internship” and a simple summer job is thin. It is okay to get a simple job during your break from intense academia. It is okay to spend your summer with your family. Other students are doing the same. You still are worthy of an Ivy League degree, and you will still find a wonderful job one day.

Here’s a little secret: Studies have shown that unpaid internships don’t actually affect your likelihood of receiving a job offer after graduation. But if you do happen upon an internship, make the most of it. Learn everything you can about the field and be proud of your work. Don’t waste valuable time flaunting your experience on Instagram or comparing yourself to your Facebook friends. There is no simple formula for the perfect summer, and only you can know what is best for you.

Whenever another Brown student asks me what I did this summer, after recounting their wonderful opportunities to me, I fight the urge to exaggerate my own experience with flashy half-truths about the glamor of interning in Manhattan. Instead, I simply say that I worked for my uncle at a firm that represents car dealerships. I may not have done ground-breaking research for the government or started my own nonprofit, but neither did most of my peers. And that’s okay.

Allie Doyle ’18 is probably at Baja’s.

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