Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thank you very much! Good bye.

Soooooooooooooooo, we're getting into annual appeal time in NGO country. Which means it's letter time. I've moved from stamping bags with a rubber stamp to putting postage stamps on 2,300 envelopes. That took up the majority of my time yesterday. Monday and Wednesday will be all about stuffing said envelopes. Yes, the day before Thanksgiving, I shall be in the office all day stuffing envelopes. Remember, sometimes job descriptions are a smidge misleading.

But as the semester is winding down, I reflect back on what I've learned from my time at an NGO.
1. No job is too small for an intern.
2. No job is too big for an intern.
3. Phones aren't a scary as previously thought.
4. Mistakes are embarrassing, but whatever! Everyone makes them. You live, you learn.
5. The work behind cool development projects is not always exciting, but definitely worthwhile.
6. I might be missing my calling as a travel agent.
7. Be efficient, be courteous, be prompt, be personable and stick to your guns (except when you're wrong. Then get over yourself and admit it graciously.)

These are my profound thoughts. Interpret them as you will.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Please Call Me Back

So, DC, how's the internship search coming? Mine is frustrated at this point. My stipulation of wanting compensation for labor seems to be a sticking point in my search. A lot of employers don't seem to think we college students need to eat, so they don't pay.

The worst is when you find the ultimate internship-paid, looks interesting, could help develop new skills, and you send off the resume with such high hopes...and never hear back. Not cool. Not cool at all. I feel like the girl waiting by the phone, waiting for the guy she likes to call her back. And he never does. Ever.

And so I persevere, struggling against the oppressive weight of the un-paid tradition that has insidiously taken over DC. I AM INTERN (who is soon to be unemployed-real-person come graduation time), therefore I am poor. Let's fix that, DC, 'k? 'K.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Please don't stop the music!

It was a quiet week at the office. One boss was out of the country and the other is back trying to play catch-up from her three weeks abroad. As a result, there was not much exciting happening. The boxes are all taken care of and now I'm doing research about other NGOs in our field, what they're doing, how they're being funded etc. This has also doubled as job/internship searching time, which as thus far been unsuccessful. Why, oh why, NGOs do you not pay your poor interns?

On another note, the brown paper bag stamping/groove time has been successful, though for significantly shorter periods of time than I would wish. Once the boss comes in, I have to turn off my happy music, and bag stamping gets a lot less fun.

I know other people's internship blogs are full of tales of important projects and cool conferences. Bully for them. I give the other side of the story, about the mundane grunt work of interning in a small office. But bag stamping has larger implications than me feeling like I'm frittering away my pursuit of higher education. It means a woman in a developing country will be able to have her product put into a nicely presented bag, giving it more respect than just shoving it into a generic, plain bag. No, my organization is proud of the work we are doing with that woman, and proud of her resulting accomplishment, so when we sell it, we'll put our name to it. Proudly. And I get time not staring at a computer screen. Everyone wins.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Slide to the left, slide to the right. Cha cha real smooth!

I see boxes in my dreams. Boxes filled with blue mugs and bubble wrap with a perfectly folded letter inside a perfectly printed envelope resting artistically on top. I see them like an endless procession that mirrored my activities of the past week. Constructing boxes, cutting bubble wrap, polishing the mug, wrapping said mug in said bubble wrap and placing in box, printing envelopes and folding letters, taping the box shut, printing address labels, and stacking the completed boxes in endless rows of perfect sameness. It is SO GREAT to be an intern. I felt like I was working for the post office.

On the plus side, both of my bosses were out of the country, which meant that it was dance party time in the office. I jammed to Pandora while doing my bubble wrap thing. You just can't do that when the bosses are in and sharing an office with you. One of my upcoming projects though includes stamping 750 brown bags with the company logo before our big art festival. Woot! We'll see if that too can be segued into groove time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Okay, college students of DC. It's that time again. You've just gotten settled into your fall internship, figured out how late you can sleep in to catch the latest possible bus to be on time to work, found the best lunch places and maybe memorized your office's phone number. So it's time to start looking for your spring internship. Update that resume, get some references in order and start a'looking. No time to waste, it's always stiff competition. This year more than ever, we're desperate to get the internship that will distinguish us from our peers when we become real people and enter the job market.

It's a tough cycle. I figure you have about a month and a half of security, where the internship and school have just started, and you can get into a nice routine before reality hits and I have to start trying to pull everything together for the next semester. There's no such thing as a short-term plan in this city. You do everything with your next move in mind. Which really kind of sucks, because you never feel completely comfortable in a place. You don't really relax, because you know you have about four months to make a good impression, network, and learn as much as you can before moving on. No pressure or anything. But on the other hand, variety is indeed the spice of life. There's never a dull moment, and you truly get to feel out your interests. If you're in a job, and after a week are like "Oh my goodness gracious, I don't want to spend my life doing this!" then never fear. It's only for a few months, and then you get to move onto the next thing. Conversely, if you find your dream job, then it makes the "What do I want to do after graduation?" question that much easier.

So go forth, ye Intern, with resume and with confidence. Waste not October, for come January, you'll need a job.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


You've had it before. It starts early on Friday...the insidious feeling of an oncoming weekend. The symptoms start coming on strong: ADD, excessive facebooking, manic clock-watching, unusually long lunch breaks, and an embarassing eagerness to leave at 5 pm on the dot (one of the few times you'll make a concerted effort to be punctual in your life). Nothing is accomplished when you have Fridayitis. You make a few feeble efforts to finish a project or write that e-newsletter article, but it just can't be done. You've got it bad.

And so went my Friday. There were phone calls to be made and e-mails to be sent out. And they were. There was more organization of projects and coordination and moving forward. But there came a time, somewhere around 3 pm where things all just kind of shut down. I hit the proverbial wall. The crossword I'd been working on during my gloriously long lunch had somehow made it's way right next to my computer to be worked on in between e-mails. It was three-day weekend time, baby (THANK YOU FEDERAL HOLIDAYS!!!), and I was done making phone calls. Except not. There was that one I made around 4 pm, which was returned at, wait for it, 4:58. Man, my bag was all put together, and I'd closed out all my programs, and I was ready to roll out into the beautful fall sunshine. And then the phone rang. And the people on the other end were not put together. And I trying to politely get them off the phone as fast as possible. And I was not successful. I ended up leaving at 5:08. As Homer Simpson would so eloquently put it," D'oh!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

And that my friends, it what is known as bad karma. I frittered away my afternoon, and my just rewards was leaving late. Let this be a lesson to you all. Do your work and keep your nose clean, and you shall recover from Fridayitis enough to leave marvelously ontime.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Want To Go Too!

What a week. A week of productivity and pain. It was productive for, well, all the obvious reasons, but the pain...oh, the pain. One of my bosses is going overseas for almost a month! *SWOON* I just wanted to say, "Obviously, since I am the intern, you can't go anywhere without me, because everything would just fall apart. I am integral to anything you need to do overseas. Therefore it is not me just trying to be self serving when I tell you that you MUST take me along, but rather for your own good." But I didn't. I just died a little bit inside when I got the order to start researching airfare. On a positive note, I could start working for a travel agent, so expert am I at navigating the Travelocity and Expedia scene after studying abroad. Finding a cheap, multi-city/country plane ticket was no sweat. But inside, my heart broke a little.

But what else...OH! We have two displays that my bosses take with them to conferences which cause some problems. Think back to third grade when you had to make projects on the three panel cardboard things, and that's pretty much what I was dealing with. The issue is that they're covered in fabric, and the display pieces are velcro-ed to panels. While the pictures and stuff stay just fine, there's a piece that sits on top of the display and velcros onto the back. Well, the fabric is getting worn, because the display has been assembled and disassembled many times. so the velcro doesn't hold anymore. In the middle of a meeting last week, the display fell apart while my boss was giving a talk. Hmmmmmmm...embarassing.

So it was my job, as the intern, to call the company that makes these displays to see if they'd had an issue with the fabric wearing before and what they did to fix it. The lady I talked to was SO indignant that I was calling to report an issue. She made it sound like I was maligning her product and impuning the quality of the velcro they use. I was like, um, excuse me, this is your product and it failed. Don't try to make this my fault. She informed me that they'd NEVER had an issue like this before, and the only thing she could suggest to us was to flip the display upside down. Upside down? Really? That's the best you can suggest? At this point I didn't know that everything on the display was velcroed on, so it wouldn't be an issue to make them right side up. I was flabbergasted by her suggestion, thinking that this woman was crazy if she thought it would be acceptable for us to put up our display at a conference upside down. I thanked her very much, and looked at my boss, then looked at the display, then looked at my boss again and said, "She thinks we should flip it upside down." And my boss said, "Yes, that's a great idea! I didn't think to do that." I thought everyone had lost their everloving mind. "The pictures are all velcro too, so how about you just flip them around and test the piece on top and we'll call it good." Revelation! And so it was done. Oh, the joys of interning.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

One of the most loathsome, least enjoyable parts of interning is phone duty. You are the first line of defense between the public and your office, which means there's MOUNTAINS of pressure. Be professional. Be courteous. Be on top of things. Know the phone number of your office in case you're asked or have to leave a message. There's nothing worse than having left a successful, professional sounding message, and then you go to leave your number and you're like "Um, er,'m sorry, let me'm trying to look apologize-0000!!" as you frantically scramble to find the post-it note where you'd written it down a million years ago.

Then there's the whole next issue of taking messages. Oh, man. Usually it's're with it enough to take down at least the caller's first name, and kind of generally remember who they're with. At least enough that you can give the message to your boss and they can figure it out. But sometimes it's just information overload, and it's all you can do to get down some initials. I look back at the end of the day at some of the messages I've taken and they're all but unintelligible.

Particularly embarrassing though is when you're working with an accented individual, and for whatever reason, you just can't for the life of you understand them. You can only ask someone to repeat their name so many times before it's just unacceptable. It's just awkward for everyone involved.

Then there are the crazy callers who just baffle you. There was the one woman who just wanted me to "Lemme as'you a queshon!" Um...shoot. Then there was the woman who wanted to schedule a manicure and pedicure. I just wanted to say that we do many things, but manis and pedis aren't among the services available.

Maybe part of my aversion to phone-answering comes from the fact that when the phone rings, Vivaldi's "Spring" plays in electronic wonder, while simultaneously the second phone rings in a normal (though earsplitting) tone. So I answer the phone after nearly suffering a coronary. My adrenaline is gushing as a result of being startled out of my wits, and I'm finding it hard to pay attention to the speaker because mostly I'm trying to calm my heart rate so I can hear over its pounding.

So what's a girl to do? Be brave, be confident, be professional. YOU ARE INTERN! And if all else fails, wing it. "Hello, this is Jenny speaking, how may I help you?" (The longer your intro, the more time you have to pull it together...)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An NGO Life

Once upon a time, way back in freshman year, I thought that I would never work for an NGO. They're too radical, I thought, too ineffective. They just sit there and make a raucous but aren't productive. Oh, how wrong I was. First I dabbled in the NGO scene in Spain, where I learned not only that the relaxed-work-environment-in-Europe had some truth to it, but that NGOs actually have an impact. My use to them was limited, by I learned many things.

NGO work in the States is a little more intense. My job description is much more varied than it was before, ranging from the more generic duties of answering phones and stuffing envelopes to the varied tasks of grant research and event planning, with a little graphic design and essay-contest coordination thrown in. But what is continually striking to me is the sense of purpose that infuses every action taken in the office. There's a difference between making noise and raising awareness, and a lot of the potential effectiveness is hampered by a lack of money. But that doesn't hinder NGOs from being productive. All the projects we undertake have an ultimate objective of helping people. My stuffing envelopes for a fundraising campaign is going to bring in the capital needed for a project that will end up benefitting the poorest of the poor. Focusing on grant research will help us sponsor an event that could potentially bring someone to the USA to speak on a pressing issue. Awareness and funds will be raised, and we can help whole communities develop a sustainable, higher quality life style, which is very fulfilling for everyone involved.

Tune in next week for: Phone Mishaps and The Balancing Act

Monday, September 14, 2009

Testing, Testing

Oh, internships. Oh, interns. Oh, to be an unpaid intern in a city where, without interns, NOTHING would function (versus only a few things that run currently. The DC metro system must not have any interns...that's why it struggles). With an internship, you feel like a real person who's going places. You get all dressed up at the crack of dawn because you have PLACES TO BE! FOR YOU ARE INTERN!!! Let's be honest, when you see your peers walking down the street in their suit and tie or high heels with the I'm-in-a-rush-because-I-have-a-life face on, you think, wow. They must have it together. Don't believe it. Behind the polished exterior lies a freaked out, stressed out individual who is also juggling a full course load, clubs, extra-curriculars, gym time, a significant other, happy hour and a million drains on the wallet in addition to also trying to figure out what on earth they want to do with themselves for the rest of their lives. Oh, to be an intern.

But I'm not here to philosophize (that's a lie, that's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.) I'm supposed to be writing about life in the trenches. About what exactly being an intern entails. It's comprised of doing the boring admin work that no one else wants to do and way more time on a computer than is strictly healthy. But, it's also comprised of some of the most rewarding experiences of your college years. You learn about things you had no idea existed, deal with all sorts of amazingly well read, intelligent, important people and gain a skill set that will hold you over for the rest of your life. Being an intern is usually pretty darn cool. Except for the relative lack of monetary compensation involved.
The bottom line is, internships are the testing grounds. It's where college kids can find their passion, and employers can find the best and the brightest to take not only DC (remember we're responsible not only for the city, but what happens inside of it) but everyone to infinity and beyond.