By Clare Myers
‘Tis the season for finalizing plans. As a graduating senior, I hear great news from friends every day, as we all make our decisions on grad schools and full-time jobs. But for my freshman, sophomore and junior friends, summer plans can be a bit trickier. I can recall weeks, even months, of anxiously applying to resume-building opportunities as an underclassman. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned through the process was the immeasurable value in taking the initiative.
When I was a sophomore, all I knew was that I wanted to spend my summer reporting the news. This proved much more difficult than I had originally thought. My naive 19-year-old self did not realize the crisis that was gutting the resources of print journalism across the country. The thought of paying a summer intern was literally laughable for most newspapers, but the thought of spending the summer after my Rome semester working for free was more likely to make me want to cry.
I was at my wit’s end. Then, while covering an on-campus discussion for The University News, I interviewed Mukul Devichand, a senior producer at the BBC. After the interview, I asked him a few questions about how he got involved in journalism. He told me that he had taken a leap of faith and traveled to Turkey, where he wrote for English-language newspapers that desperately needed writers who could write fluently for a population that was increasingly valuing English-language communications.
His story sounded like something out of a movie to me. Travel halfway across the world to report another country’s news? I sighed inwardly and lamented that I had not been born in the heyday of newspapers, as Devichand had been. I had missed out on the kind of adventure he had created for himself.
And then it struck me: Why couldn’t I have my own adventure? I was already traveling halfway across the world; I was going to Rome in the spring. I decided to try to find a job over there. I didn’t speak Italian. I didn’t know anyone over there. But the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t get an internship in Rome, and I already didn’t have an internship in Rome.
So I started researching English-language newspapers in Rome. I asked a few priests I knew about news sources in Rome, and was directed toward the Catholic News Service, the press arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was an American company with offices in Washington, D.C. but it had a small Vatican Bureau that wired stories back to the United States to publish in diocesan papers. Nearly overcome with excitement, I contacted the chief of the Vatican Bureau. Essentially, our email exchange was as follows:
Overeager college student: “Are there positions open for undergraduate interns?”
Realistic journalist: “No. We don’t do that in the summer.”
Stopped in my tracks by the disappointing reality of budget constraints, I was stymied. After a moment’s pause, I resolved to be persistent, to prove to him that I had the determination of a journalist even if he didn’t want to hire me. Our next exchange went something like this.
Still overeager college student: “Can I send you my resume and some writing samples?”
Slightly annoyed journalist: “I’ll look at it.”
A few days later he emailed me to tell me they found room in the budget to hire me as a part-time intern for a number of weeks in the summer.
That summer working as a reporter for the Catholic News Service was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I stayed in Rome after an incredible spring semester abroad and moved into an apartment in Trastevere. I walked 45 minutes along the Tiber River every morning to a job that paid just enough to cover my rent and groceries, and I loved every second of it. I gained invaluable experience and honed my skills as a journalist. I had to deal with the language barrier and culture clashes on a daily basis, but those obstacles taught me lessons I will never forget.
The most important lesson, though, was the one I learned before I even arrived in Rome. In our post-Great Recession world, the opportunities we want might not even exist before we create them. Landing a great internship or job can be as simple as gathering the courage to take initiative. And you’ll never know until you ask.