New York City is the concrete playground where thousands of interns spend their summer recess. Despite the proliferation of bright eyed college students donning work badges, the daily life of an intern remains just as vague as the term “business casual.” Go behind the scenes with a novice intern-turned-New-Yorker to dispel the mystery surrounding the title “intern.”
The title of “New Yorker” is polished, contemporary, and powerful. Denoting both affluence and influence, the title becomes especially appealing to those residing outside of the Empire State’s border. While such urban status attracts those of all ages, it particularly appeals to college students on the prowl for the perfect summer internship: the one that amplifies a resume, impresses relatives over dinner, and sounds downright kick-ass to friends who pose the question “what are your plans for the summer?”
Once the interview is nailed, and the congratulatory phone call or email fielded, it comes time to face the reality of “carpe diem.” Ready or not, here New York City comes.
No matter how romantic the expectation, the first day is challenging. An alarm at a time in the morning beginning with “6 AM” or for the lucky one, “7 AM,” jolts the intern awake. Clothes ironed, and laid out meticulously the previous night are now slipped into, and patted for perfection. The definition of business casual? No one knows. The intern has a general idea, isn’t yet sure, but a similar outfit template was acceptable exactly one month ago during the interview, so today’s ensemble should succeed.
In between Keurig K-cups and a hasty packaging of the afternoon’s lunch, the intern is at the train station, fifteen minutes early, but ready to board train #3795. The intern checks this number several times for accuracy, and wonders if this is the right side of the track. It is. At last, the sullied train arrives in its grey car glory, and the intern, a newbie among the middle aged, seasoned commuter experts boards.
After a quiet ride, marked by gazes out of the window, and a case of the jitters every now and then, the train rests in its terminal at Penn Station, delivering its passengers to the Big Apple. The intern is jostled and pushed up the escalator, but is not surprised; this, after all, is how New York is.
The crowd thins and the intern cautiously follows a walking navigation app that directs the intern to the office. Each upcoming turn is anticipated, and then committed to memory, or seemingly so. It will take at least a week for the intern to outgrow the navigation app.
Or perhaps, the intern hails a cab. Regardless, the intern is on time, and will even be ten minutes early today. This, is a good start. The intern will appreciate today in the days to come, when rain, transit issues, and other unexpected debacles delay the intern, turning the morning into a chaotic re-evaluation of potential job choice. Fret not, for no intern is thrown to the corporate dungeon for the in-habitual fifteen minute late arrival.
Upon arrival, and a silent elevator ride among the company’s tenured staff members, the intern arrives on the correct floor, and is met by “the boss,” who shows the intern to a desk, decorated with an employee badge, predictable office supplies, and coffee mug emblazoned with the company’s name and symbol. The intern shows more (sincere) enthusiasm over the reception of a mug than ever before.
From then on, the intern embarks on the learning curve that will be conquered eventually, but not today. The intern is introduced to several important staff members, but not the most important staff members, and assigned several projects once “the boss,” or another company employee debriefs the intern on how to use a given database, a certain research tool. In a whirlwind, the intern is left to perform the delegated tasks. Here is the part when lying on the resume hurts, and where not lying at all was a good decision.
Noon comes, and the intern is invited to an awkward lunch in the company cafeteria with the other interns.The intern meekly sizes up the other interns: who looks the smartest, where did this one study, am I the youngest or the oldest one here? all questions that are contemplated, but not answered. Not to mention the question that dates back to elementary school: why did this one have to bring stinky tuna fish for lunch? The lunch becomes increasingly comfortable as the seasoned employees introduce themselves and make casual, friendly conversation. The aroma of tuna fish becomes less noticeable.
When lunch is over, the interns return to their various locations across the office, perching once more at their desks to work until 5 PM. The intern fiddles with Excel spreadsheets, and fields office wide emails like “Happy Birthday to _____!” whoever ____ is. The intern cannot remember if this was one of the people introduced earlier in the day.
Working efficiently, but still a little stiffly, the intern finishes some of the tasks, leaving others to be done the next day, still right on track with the deadlines.
All is going well; no one demands coffee, the intern doesn’t break the coffee machine when periodically re-energizing, and no one has critiqued the intern’s outfit. And then, the horror sets in with a shrill ring. The intern glances over at the phone on the desk; it is the intern’s personal line, and it is ringing. This is a foreign electronic device; one devoid of emoji’s and read receipts, can the intern work it?
Should I answer it? is the intern’s immediate thought, followed by, I have to answer it. The intern gingerly picks up the phone, and coughs out a polite “Hello,” that succeeds “_____ speaking.” The intern listens, breathes a sigh of relief, and returns the phone to its cradle. Wrong number.
Five o’clock comes, perhaps the most swiftly that it ever will in the intern’s summer experience at the company, and the intern once more uses the navigation app, typing in “New York Penn Station.” The intern looks like a tourist, but the intern is free, the intern survived the first day, the intern-ooh, 99 cent pizza. The intern grabs a slice of pizza for the train ride home, already too exhausted to even fathom cooking.