(3) The Value of Experience

There is no better teacher than experience. Being an intern allows you to gain work experience and helps you to understand the inner workings of a field. Even when the internship doesn’t live up to your expectations, it still provides a valuable learning opportunity. While interning at Someone Cares Atlanta, I learned many important lessons, although they were not necessarily the lessons that I wanted to learn when I started my internship this summer. 

When I applied to intern, I was interested in doing outreach work with people who have been exposed to or have contracted HIV. Unfortunately, I was not able to do this during my time at Someone Cares. Instead, I worked primarily with clients participating in the Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse program (IOP). This provided me the opportunity to learn about how intensive outpatient programs were run and operated. I was able to look into the lives of people recovering from substances and understand them better. I also learned about the link between substance abuse and mental health and how mental illness can be a co-morbidity for addiction. Many people turn to substance abuse due to untreated mental illness. This emphasized to me the importance of making sure everyone has access to mental health services.

During my time at Someone Cares, I also learned the importance of clear communication. Unfortunately, my internship was sometimes hampered by the failure to communicate important information and general disorganization. For example, I arranged for the first day of my internship to be June 6; however, when I arrived they were unsure of who I was or what to do with me for almost an hour. Problems like this persisted throughout my internship experience, many of which could have been avoided through communication from management. I believe one solution would have been allowing me to have access to general communication channels for my department so I could stay in the loop.

Despite some of the setbacks, I believe I was able to have a positive impact during my internship. I assisted with the intensive outpatient program group and provided consistency for clients since I was the only person who was in the office every day. I also helped to lessen the load placed on case managers by doing administrative tasks and data entry. Overall, I was able to improve the quality of life for both employees and clients.

One thing I wish I understood back when I started my internship is the importance of knowing what you want to get out of an internship and being able to advocate for it. This is especially important when you’re not participating in an established internship program. If there is a particular experience that you are looking forward to getting during your internship, you should let your supervisor know. Being an intern is about gaining experience and opportunities for growth. It is important to take an active role in your internship experience.

For someone looking to find an internship, I would recommend interning with an organization with an established program or an organization that is willing to work with and support you as an intern. If you’re not participating in a program, I would meet beforehand to establish an itinerary for the internship. Overall, I believe it’s beneficial for someone interested in social justice to do an internship. The work is not easy and the world of nonprofits can be a little disorganized, but the opportunity to have an impact on even one person’s life is why I came to Brandeis.