Interning 101: Tips & Experiences

Working as a teaching aid at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School in my junior year of college was my first internship experience, and it’s true that I worked in an environment that held a few culturally different working values. But it seems that most internships require the same level of attention and passion, and I’d like to relate a few tips that might allow you—the eager new intern—to go above and beyond in the eyes of your future, or current, supervisor. During my internship I had so much fun teaching in the classroom, but adding in the extra effort outside of working hours was what made the experience all the more enjoyable; I met brilliant students and participated in after-school activities that brought me closer to the students and my supervisor. Truthfully, before landing the spot at KanaSoh I panicked about taking on such a big responsibility and I spent a lot of time researching the best ways to search for an internship, secure one, and maintain it — imagine sweaty palms as I scrolled through more than a handful of WikiHow and Forbes articles. But since then I’ve done some fieldwork for you, the reader, so I hope it helps all the nervous sophomores out there, sitting in dorm rooms, pushing up plastic glasses.

Tip Zone #1: Communication

  • Be a reachable human being. Reply to all emails and messages you receive related to the internship and your supervisor so that they know you are alive and tuned-in to the job. They should not have a difficult time contacting you, and you need to make sure to check all forms of communication that you have ever provided your supervisor with. If you and your supervisor are friends on Facebook, respond to late night messages! They could be wanting to check in with you or discuss timing and upcoming activities.
  • Be formal until further notice. Compose emails in an appropriate way — which means typically more formal than everyday speech! But do adjust your tone when you feel like your supervisor would appreciate casual conversation. Be personable and have fun chatting and growing together as human beings, if they encourage it!

Tip Zone #2: Time Management

  • Compare schedules. Whether you’re beginning classes for the semester or you’re working part-time, as soon as you learn of important dates for you (exams, work events, projects) figure out which dates in the future would work best as time reserved for these other obligations (study days, breather days after exams etc.). Let your supervisor know ASAP of instances when you don’t think you can handle full work days at your internship. Now check their schedule; ask about important events that might come up in the next few weeks or months ahead at your internship. Do they have any work parties, conferences, or fun activities that would benefit both of you if you joined in?
  • 遅くなってすみません! When you’re running late be sure to call, text, Line, Skype, Facebook, email, anything! Let your supervisor know of your lateness or unexpected absence as soon as possible because they might have to change their schedule around you, and they will probably be worried about your well-being (if they love you enough). If you’re traveling to a foreign country, try to find a replacement for your phone plan back at home — look for a cheap phone you can load with minutes, a SIM card you can stick in your phone, etc., but look for these options early! It took me the longest time to find a replacement for my American phone. Initially I thought Softbank’s Simple Plan would work for me, even though it would come out to a little less than $100 for a cheap phone and the first round of minutes. But I heard from a friend of a friend that a SIM card with 2 gigs of data for three months would be a much better deal (and it was —$40 for three months!!). Research plans but also keep in mind certain restrictions on your options as a foreigner — I tried to get a phone in Japan at Softbank several times but they were either packed and had no time slots left, or they lacked English-speaking representatives to guide me through contract paperwork (they come and go at certain times!).

Tip Zone #3: Delivery and Quality

  • Work it, girl. I graded papers at my internship — nothing too fancy — but whenever I did, I tried to take my time and grade thoughtfully, sometimes leaving constructive feedback or alternative ways to fix sentences (yes, sometimes smiley faces do the job too if the students write something really cute or well-written). Take your time and do your best in all situations, and work with all the curve balls you might be thrown. Once I was given the opportunity to get even more involved than usual with students: a teacher I worked with gave me a few minutes to meet the students and then he expected me to take over, introducing the new lesson to the class and getting the students to speak up in new activities. I was a little stunned when he motioned with a swoop of his hand for me to begin the lesson, but I tried to relax and go with it and it ended up being a fun little push that gave me a feel for really teaching a class on my own.
  • Work it more, girl. With any internship, if your supervisor invites you to come along to any kind of extra event or activity, go for it! Not only does it mean your supervisor wants your help or would love it if you were present, but it also shows that they think it might be a good experience for you. I’ve gotten the chance to go to a few extra practice sessions with students preparing for English exams, some who are visiting other countries, and a few who just want to hone their English skills, and it was awesome! I have also been to a large get-together with students and faculty from several schools in Kanagawa where we discussed English education in Japan, and the experience gave me unique insight on the school system at large.

One summer I tried to get an internship at a local newspaper company near my hometown, only to be let down by the communication skills of my would-be supervisor; even after visits placing resumes on desks, I still waited for a few weeks, phone at the ready and confused eyes on my email. I prepared well, followed up, and even secured a phone interview that… never happened! Following all the tips and tricks you find online won’t guarantee you a mind-blowing internship, but it will help you prepare for the possibilities of your future. It’s really up to you and the choices you make when searching for and applying to internships. Be ready to apply to a few, be conscious of what avenue you want to work in and how it would relate to your studies, and try to find something that will give you the most amazing and beneficial experiences. When you finally do secure an internship, do your best and HAVE FUN! 頑張ってね!

Words to know:
遅くなってすみません — おそくなってすみません — I’m sorry I am late!
頑張ってね — がんばってね — Good luck!

This post was originally featured on one of Temple University’s Study Abroad Blogs, which document the journeys of students studying at Temple affiliated universities around the world. My post appeared on the “Temple U Japan” student blog on January 29th, 2015.

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