The early morning traffic jam on June 1 allowed Jeffrey Shiu to survey the bustle that is Shanghai. From the vantage point of his taxi seat, Shiu, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences, observed old shops caught in the shadow of burgeoning skyscrapers, double-decker buses crowded with people standing neck to neck, groups of elderly women strolling the sidewalks with plastic umbrellas, and hundreds of others cranking along on bicycles. His home in Scarsdale, New York, he says, felt a million miles away.
Shiu was not merely sightseeing, however; he was en route to his first day of work. Understandably anxious, the rush-hour congestion did little to calm his nerves.
"You know how it is. That first day you really don't want to be even a minute late," Shiu recounts.
He arrived that day just on time and was promptly introduced to his new fellow employees and shown to his cubicle. Within the first hour he was equipped with an assortment of desk supplies, bilingual business cards and a 300MHz laptop computer and was given his first assignment. No moment to idle; it was time to get to work.
While some students might have passed the time this summer encamped on the beach or being a camp counselor, for two and a half months Shiu interned as an account manager in Nortel Networks' Shanghai office. He is part of a growing number of Hopkins undergraduates who are opting to spend a significant portion of their summer vacations acquiring valuable work and research experience. These students are assuming full-time employment with major companies and organizations--many of which are nonpaid positions and are located abroad--with the assistance of university-provided grants and fellowships.
Shiu, who is majoring in political science and East Asian studies, was one of nine students this year to receive a Robins Internship Program Award. Funded by Hopkins alumnus Charles Robins, the award offers $5,000, mostly to cover travel and living expenses, to selected students for internships in companies located in Asia. The students themselves must first identify and contact the organization they wish to work for and, once they have secured the position, are asked to submit a proposal to the Office of Career Planning and Development.
Shiu says that without the award he would have missed out on a terrific opportunity. The job itself involved monitoring a variety of projects within the telecommunications firm's management division. He worked 10-hour days, five days a week, and often had to work nights in order to participate in conference calls with Nortel personnel in the United States and Europe. His Chinese has never been better, Shiu says, and he didn't once regret not being elsewhere.
"I loved it. The internship was not just one thing; I was involved in a lot of different projects. My boss wanted me to get exposure to the different activities of not just Nortel but of the business world in general," Shiu says. "I wanted to see what it was like to work in Asia, and I am already planning on going back next summer after I graduate."
Thousand of miles from Shiu's cubicle in Shanghai, Camille Fesche had a "fascinating" internship experience of her own in the South American country of Ecuador. The international studies major spent the period between May 20 and Aug. 6 working for Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specifically the Department of Economic Promotion, in the capital city of Quito. She had visited the country four times before, but this time she was not there as a tourist but actually to foster tourism within the country. One of her responsibilities was to help organize and promote international fairs held in the country, including one celebrating flowers, a major export.
The experience she had was a wish come true, Fesche says.
"Being that I've spoken Spanish since I was very young, and my mother was from Ecuador, it has always been a big goal of mine to work there," Fesche says. "I was able to immerse myself in the culture and understand why things are done the way they are down there. That is something I don't think you can get just from visiting a country; you can only grasp it from actually living there."
She was able to achieve her goal with the benefit of the Ned Offit Internship Award. Fesche was one of three recipients for the year 2000.
The program offers funding for students to gain international business experience through summer internships in Latin America. The award recipients are granted $1,000 per month toward living expenses, plus airfare for one round-trip flight between their home and the internship site.
"I really want to thank Mr. Offit for this opportunity," Fesche says. "Being an international studies student, it is imperative that you get experience oversees. You learn how to live a different way of life."
Adrienne Alberts, associate director of the Office of Career Planning and Development, says more and more students are discovering how vital it is to have work experience before graduate school or their first "real job." In addition to the awards offered by Offit and Robins, the Second Decade Society supports an internship program for students in the School of Arts and Sciences. Combined, 28 undergraduates received internship awards this year. For School of Engineering students, Society of Engineering Alumni Internships are available, though no stipend is provided.
"Students are inclined to get summer jobs anyway, so why not take advantage of an opportunity to prepare yourself for work in the future and see if it is indeed something you really want to do?" Alberts says. "A lot of these experiences are vastly different from what they are learning in class. They learn about art, or business in Asia or whatever else interests them."
Alberts says she has found that most students return from their internships exuberant about their field and cannot wait to return after graduation. For those putting off the real world for awhile, the experience is just as valuable.
"Research opportunities and internships look great to graduate schools," Alberts says. "It shows these kids took the extra step and have really thought out what they want to do."
Sarah Spinner, who is from Canada, says she certainly confirmed her interests with her internship work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Spinner, a junior majoring in history of art and French, worked in the museum's Department of Medieval Art researching collection histories of works of art acquired from 1933 onward. She followed that 10-week position with a two-week stint at the Commission for Art Recovery, also in New York, identifying specific missing Hebrew manuscripts looted during World War II.
"It was an amazing experience. I was really able to enhance my skills, particularly my provenance research skills, an area that I am interested in pursuing," says Spinner, a recipient of a Second Decade Society Internship Award. "The experience also broadened my knowledge and perspectives of medieval art and museum studies."
Her twin brother, Sam, a Writing Seminars and German major, spent his summer at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York studying the history and culture of Jews in Germany, also courtesy of a Second Decade Society Internship Award.
For more on summer internships available to undergraduates, contact Adrienne Alberts at 410-516-8056 or logon to www.jhu.edu/~careers/internships.html.
Note: The online version of this story was edited on Oct. 1, 2007.