By Felicia Riggs
This summer I decided to take an internship as an exotic animal caregiver (which is a fancy way to say zookeeper and animal trainer) at a small private exotic facility in Louisiana. I jumped into this internship head first without a second thought and took this opportunity mainly as a resume booster, but I ended up learning more than I expected in my short time there. Here are some unexpected benefits that I have personally received through my internship.
1. Finding Myself Outside My Comfort Zone:
If you are anything like me, you have no real idea of who you are outside of your hometown/high school. I came to this small town in Louisiana just hoping that everything was going to work out and that I wouldn’t hate my summer. I was terrified that I was going to be here for a few weeks and not be able to handle the distance from everybody that I knew and loved. Going away to college wasn’t hard because I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown, but taking a summer away from the place I now called home was something that I didn’t know I could handle. Being isolated from all my friends and family was hard for the first few weeks, but being away from them has really showed me that I can go live my life and be a “real adult” away from my comfort zone. I can adapt to places just like anyone else, and I find that it is easier to adapt once you realize that your comfort zone is what limits your exposure to the world.
2. Figuring Out The Right Job For Me:
You will know quite quickly if that specific job is something that you want to do for the rest of your life. If you hate the thought of continuing the work that you are doing, or taking on an internship related to that work, then you need to find a new career path. If I didn’t love my kangaroo joeys, and all the other one hundred-plus animals out here in Louisiana, then there is no way that I would last at this place. I work long days out in the sun and the Louisiana heat, but being able to snuggle with my lynx kitten at the end of the day makes everything worth it. So, if you take an internship and can list more cons than pros, RUN. Your internship should not be a chore to you, and you should not hate every minute of it. I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been a few days that have been extremely difficult for me, but I can honestly say that I have experienced way more good days than bad days during this internship opportunity.
3. Getting Thrown Into The Real World:
Taking an internship away from home is, in my opinion, the fastest way to have to grow up. I went from having meals prepared for me and having no job (other than school) to buying and preparing all my own food, working fifty-plus hours a week, and still having school work to do. Now, some of you may have more “adulting” experience than me and think that I’m entitled or taking too long to adjust to adult life, but this move was a big change for me. For example, this past week I have been sick on top of every responsibility, so I’ve really had a crash course on “How to be an Adult.” But, oddly, I like this feeling, meaning I like knowing that I am living entirely on my own because it’s freeing. For those of you thinking about taking an internship, don’t let fear scare you away. Run toward your fear, and it will pay off for you, big time.
4. Establishing Business Connections:
Okay, now this is one of the more obvious benefits of taking an internship, but I never guessed how much this one opportunity would help me. Even though you may think your bosses don’t notice you putting extra hours, working way harder than other people, or picking up on the smaller things that make the day run smoother, They do. You may think that your employers just hang out in their office all day and take care of the business stuff, but they ask about you. Bosses want to know if you are a potential employee after graduation, and they want to know if they really need to write a personal letter of recommendation for you or just use a vague template with your name on it. So, you should do all the extra things. Even when you have already worked thirteen hours that day and are at your wits end keep going. Bosses especially notice who is working hard at the end of a long, crazy week. My boss has offered me a job after I graduate and has also offered to connect me with one of his colleagues for a part time job while I am working on my degree. I cannot stress how much employers notice when you think they aren’t looking.
5. Making Friendship Connections:
Making friends during your internship or work opportunity may not happen everywhere. I am lucky enough to have wonderful people working with me, so I get along quite well with all of them. I have even met one person in particular who I know is a true friend and that know I will keep in touch with for the years to come. Having friends around while you are doing an internship is going to be a big part of your happiness. We all get mad and frustrated at work, and we need somebody that we can trust to go to when we are having problems. My friend here happens to be one of my coworkers (By the way, be careful if you befriend a coworker. You just don’t want anything negative you say to get back to the boss.) Another reason having a friend at your internship is a positive influence is that the two of you can go explore. If you are in a totally new location, don’t just lay around on your days off. You might want to go out, explore, and get a feel for the local culture. Being in Louisiana and far away from home, I sometimes feel like I’m in a totally different country, but I know that I always have a partner in crime to go find an adventure with.
The best advice I can give any of you wanting to jump into an internship is to just do it because it’s going to teach you so much about yourself and your life plans. Plus, internships are just a lot of fun. I love my internship, and it was honestly the best way I could have possibly spent my summer. Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get very many offers when applying for positions. I applied to 23 different facilities all over the world and this was the only internship I got offered. It’s competitive out there, but if you can snag one, take it! And once you have taken that opportunity try to learn what I learned; find yourself, your interests, and your connections to the world outside your comfort zone.