The Summer Internship Roller Coaster

By Sonam Rikha ’24

I never expected the exhilarating highs and crushing lows of last summer’s internship search. Who knew that looking for a summer internship could feel like a never ending roller coaster of obstacles and surprises.

During the spring semester, students are often left scrambling to find an internship or some other opportunity to fill up the long summer days. Whether it be scrolling through Handshake (an online platform college students commonly use to find jobs and professional opportunities) for hours or sending in your tenth résumé, finding a summer internship can be daunting. Especially when it feels like your peers already have their summer perfectly planned around some remarkable internship. Like every other Pomona student who didn’t have their summer lined up, last spring I was waiting to hear back from some programs and organizations I had applied to.

Luckily for me, I had two possible options. I was a finalist for a public service internship program for Asian American Pacific Islander students, and I also had an application in at Northwestern University, where I’d be to be a teaching assistant in the center for talent development program. It was now a waiting game. And as the weeks passed and summer drew closer, my anxiety seemed to rise. Suddenly, that all changed when I received an email notification from Northwestern that I was accepted to be a teaching assistant for their in-person program. With only two days to confirm my acceptance, I, unfortunately, had to withdraw my application to the public service program.

Although I was sad that I couldn’t do any policy work over the summer, I was excited to work with students and be close to home in Chicagoland. With the contract signed and my background check cleared, my summer plans were set. Or so I thought. Who would’ve known that a wave of chaos would soon greet me.

Two weeks before my start date, I received an email saying that my program was now canceled because of low student enrollment due to COVID-19.

As frustrated as I was with the unprofessional and abrupt cancellation of my summer job, I knew I couldn’t give up on my summer. With only a few weeks till summer, I submitted an internship application to a Tibetan NGO that I had interacted with before. When I received a notification on my phone to schedule an interview with the NGO co-founder, a feeling of relief washed over me. After sending in my availability and picking an interview time, I prepped for hours, studying the NGO and brainstorming how I could best present myself.

When it was finally time for the interview, I constantly refreshed my email to see if my interviewer had sent the zoom link. The minutes ticked by as I waited for my virtual interview. Those minutes soon turned into hours. Upset that I was stood up by my interviewer, I emailed asking if there was some last-minute timing conflict and if we needed to reschedule. I later received an apology and a proposal for another date and time for an interview. Desperate to do something over the summer, I decided to forgive my interviewer and reschedule my interview. Shockingly, I was stood up again.

Zoom with photos of participants in Tibetan-American public service program
The Tibetan-American program

Besides taking Tibetan classes for the summer, I was left with nothing to do. Annoyed at the world for playing with my summer plans, I couldn’t help comparing my plans to the eventful ones my friends had. Life doesn’t go as planned, my parents would remind me. Though as an active planner, who always has a backup plan or option, I was stumped. One of my plans usually always worked out in the end. With no options left, I could either mope about all my rejections or go back to the drawing board. While wallowing in disappointment seemed less painful and more enticing than internship-hunting, I couldn’t give up.

Zoom with Richard Gere and other participants
A call with Richard Gere!

Luckily, when you go with the flow, things seem to find you. On Facebook, I randomly stumbled across this Tibetan-American public service program and spontaneously decided to apply. Fortunately, I got in and was able to gain some unforgettable experiences. Through the program, I met other inspiring Tibetan-American youth and influential professionals in public service. I even got to talk to congressional representatives, Cincinnati Mayor (Aftab Pureval), and Hollywood superstar Richard Gere! I also was able to participate in a one-time exchange with Japanese students from Fukushima University and have nuanced discussions on topics ranging from politics, climate change, to pop culture. While my internship search didn’t exactly go to plan, my determination to never give up ensured that I was still able to make the most out of my summer!