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Summer internships or study abroad programmes are an expectation at Harvard University. Every year, the university connects students with hundreds of organisations and schemes to encourage us to have a productive three months during the summer. Conversations about summer plans start as early as Christmas and often by February many students have a placement secured. I was not one of those students.
For the past three months, I have been searching endlessly for a summer internship relating to politics. No one seemed to want me.
I was far too young for an internship in the UK, where placements are prioritised for students in their final year of university. I found it almost impossible to even generate a response from the organisations I approached. I had the Harvard Institute of Politics, the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs and the leader of the Welsh Conservative Party all desperately searching for a placement in London for me. Nothing came up. So, I turned to America. This proved to be just as challenging.
For the first time since arriving in the United States, I experienced how it felt to be overlooked because of my international status. I had no idea that being a non-American citizen seeking an internship relating to policy, government or campaigning would impede my chances of securing a placement. Countless internships that would have been perfect for me specified that “only US citizens” may apply. I remember attending a college internship fair at the Institute of Politics, walking up to the recruiters with an ironclad resume and watching their faces fall as my accent stated the obvious: I was British.
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I felt like giving up. I had spent hours scouring the internet for internship placements, applying and then either never hearing a reply, or receiving another rejection to add to my growing collection. Why was I so determined to have an internship in politics? It’s difficult to explain.
I am someone who likes to make the most of my time. But it is more than that. I want to gain the maximum amount of experience possible in politics before I return to the UK after graduating and I want to overturn the trend of people entering positions of power in government without political experience. I feel I have a duty to make the most of the opportunities and privileges I have at Harvard and use the skills I obtain to make this world a better place. If that means not spending my summer break at home, but instead working on education or economic policy, so be it. In the current climate, politics needs all the help it can get.
In my three months of panic and uncertainty, I secured placements on small week-long schemes, attempting to patch a summer together. Just before classes finished, I received my first acceptance email for an internship placement in Washington DC. I realised I may have filled up my summer a tad too much.
In my first week of summer, I will be in New York gathering documents and research materials on Brexit. I will then be shadowing a Washington Examiner journalist, with a possibility to have an article of my own published in the paper. After that, my DC placement begins – and lasts for nine weeks. I will be working on federal policy for the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, in his DC office. I will then be in London, working for a social mobility programme for a week. The following week, I will be in Shanghai to teach Chinese students about Brexit, with an extended trip planned to Hangzhou. Finally, I plan to return home for a well-deserved rest and to spend time with my family.
Summer will be exciting and intense. But this is by no means unique to me. Harvard students see summer as another critical dimension to their education. I couldn’t agree more. I believe the UK should encourage and support university students more to have a planned and constructive summer.
It would help ease the transition from university to employment, as well as widening the perspectives and experiences of the new generation. This is going to be all the more important in the age of Brexit. We need to be as competitive a workforce as possible in order to prosper in the international economy.