Trusting Interns?

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What is the purpose of an internship? You hear all the time that interns work to gain experience before venturing off into the so-called “real world”. As for employers? They get fresh, energetic workers who are there to learn and help out as much as they can. If all goes well, internships hopefully turn into full time jobs for the student and one less new employee to train for the employer.

I had always wondered about this mutualistic relationship. Is it really as equal as a tradeoff for some companies? I’ve heard stories where employers work their interns ridiculously hard for no pay. I’ve heard other stories where interns do minimal work but recieve significant pay. My concerns regarding this topic were heightened when I started work. Indeed, I was in Hong Kong and wanted to enjoy living abroad on my own for the first time; however, my purpose and focus was on my internship and how it was going to benefit my career in the long run. While I wanted to gain valuable technical skills, as importantly, I wanted to offer something to the company as well. So from day one, my eyes were glued to my computer screen with my 100 tabs open.

Now near the end of my internship, it has become a little more clear my role for the company. I felt that my first 3 weeks of research was for me; I was gaining and learning so much, being mentored by such talented individuals. My boss’s boss was a former University professor, so he knows and values the importance of mentorship to guide students in the right direction. He kept emphasizing I continue reading and research, but frankly, I didn’t know for what purpose. My fears were coming true…were they helping me immensely more than I was helping and will be helping them after two months?

Fast forward a couple weeks, and now I see my direction more clearly. Parts were just ordered last Friday for the design of a machine that myself and another intern are about to make and assemble. A machine that we designed ourselves! They gave us a 3-D sketch of what we needed to do, and we had to figure out the inner mechanisms and how it was going to work in order to produce a proof of concept/prototype. When it is completed, it will be displayed in their store gallery as a new business venture they are working on with partnering companies. So my prior weeks of research wasn’t all for me…they knew what they were doing the entire time! I talked to another one of my bosses at a recent work event. He told me that the work culture in Hong Kong is very different than of China. In China, they often micromanage, but in Hong Kong, employers like to give their employees creative freedom, at least for a lot of start-ups. This is when it clicked. My internship gave me so much freedom to work on what I liked; they even asked me on my first day what I wanted to do. I could have taken the project in a couple directions. Ultimately, the design that we made was the one they went with and are investing in.

Taking apart one of my company’s products to study its inner mechanisms 

The idea of putting so much trust into interns is shocking yet amazing to think about. Bright, young talent, yet with no experience, responsible for ideas, money, and ventures of companies. While I will hopefully end my time with a deliverable for my company, I still feel like I am gaining much more than they are gaining from me. But if I can even contribute a fraction to the company compared to the value that they have given me in time, patience, experience, and mentorship, then I will be content.