OPINION: An internship isn’t the only way to learn real life lessons

A woman points to a green smiley face drawn on her forehead.
Don’t overlook the value of hands-on work, such as being a camp counselor, as a summer experience, writes Eliza Powers PO ’25. (Courtesy: Moody College of Communication via Flickr)

 

10:42 p.m. in a cabin in the woods: Hailey’s impetigo is scabbing over, June is crying in the bathroom stall, Lilly tried to put her pajamas over a wet bathing suit, and Ella thinks I can’t see the click of her flashlight reading Percy Jackson under the blanket. The toilet is clogged; someone had diarrhea. 

“Don’t tell my mom, Eliza,” June wails, “or I’ll have to go to anger management therapy.” 

Taylor screams; it’s a spider. Bedtime was supposed to be two hours ago. Welcome to the woods of North Carolina. 

Being a camp counselor is not glamorous work: by the time I get a sobbing six-year-old to sleep during an overnight camping trip, I’m waking up to retching. She’s so distraught that she forgot her bunny that she vomited s’mores in my hair. 

“I farted,” Lily whispers in my ear. Caroline is crying: “No boy will ever like me.”

My attention is tugged in 17 different directions. Mia wants to tell me about the girls who think that they’re “TikTok baddies.” Kate wants me to play a Taylor Swift song. Nicole is crying quietly on her bunk: “Last month, my dad left us.” 

So this summer, if you’re deciding between an unpaid internship and spending ten weeks straight in the woods with a bunch of unhinged prepubescent children, ditch the internship. 

A summer internship is more “serious.” But who has the authority to decide that crunching numbers for a bank is more “serious” than teaching a girl who covers up in a shirt and shorts in the lake that her body is strong and powerful? Who says that interning at a law firm is more “serious” than sitting underneath the flicker of fireflies while a camper cries about her parent’s divorce? What’s more serious than watching a group of girls learn that dancing together in the square dance is better than fawning over the boy with a rim of red punch around his lip who was mean to them? Who has determined that a research lab is more “serious” than rating pencil dives, critiquing cartwheels, checking for infected mosquito bites and reading the “Magic Tree House” as four girls fall asleep in your bed? 

A summer internship prepares you for the “real” world. But what’s more real than a 3 a.m. nightmare, wet bed, cup of water, scraped knee, or checking for ticks? What’s more real than dripping idolization, One Direction dance parties, shampoo got in my eyes, “We found a baby bird, its wing is broken, can we keep it, can we nurse it back to health, can we name it Trixie?” What prepares you for the real world more than being stranded in the woods of Tennessee with twelve preteens on the verge of heat-stroke with no running water, siphoning muddy creek water into a bottle to boil? 

And as for problem-solving? You’ll discover that the only way the girls will do their chores is if you blast “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and they get to collapse into giggles after sweeping, screeching “we love you, Miss Hannigan.” You’ll learn that the only way to mend the catastrophic rift between Mia and Kate over the boy from the other side of the lake is to wipe their tears and offer them two illicit cups of hot chocolate from the counselor’s lounge, turning a fight into a sacred secret.

An internship gives you hands-on experience. But what’s more hands-on than explaining how to put a tampon in, French braiding six heads every morning, scrubbing mold off the side of a shower, catching a moth and setting it free, wading into a lake holding a six-year-old because she’s too scared to start her swim lesson without you? 

The Washington Post calls domestic labor “socially reproductive labor — daily work that enables people to perform their jobs and maintain their health.”

Domestic labor is institutionally overlooked, categorized as easy and innately enjoyable work for women: kindergarten teachers are grossly underpaid, and maternity leave is defined as a break from “real work.” 

Yet domestic labor is ultimately the most “serious” form of work imaginable, the backbone of all capitalist institutions, the nurturers, the cultivators and caretakers of future laborers. Without domestic labor we have no banks, we have no colleges, law firms, theaters, train stations or Whole Foods employees. 

Nowhere is the importance of domestic labor more visible for a college student than through the role of a camp counselor. I don’t see my summer job as a break from the “serious” work I do at Pomona but as an extension.

Do you see the girl who’s been conditioned to be silent at the dinner table standing on her chair and cheering to the camp songs with everyone else? Do you see the way her face lights up when you encourage her to have dessert? To go off the rope swing? When you tell her you’re proud of her? When they drive away with a bearded man in a camo jacket in a truck from North Florida, the twins leave you a note: “You’ll be my big sister forever.” None of this I could get from a summer internship. 

Eliza Powers PO ’25 is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She loves reality TV, Phoebe Bridgers, and searching for the perfect avocado toast recipe. 

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