Summer in the Capital of the Intern World

Leopards, tigers, hippos and humans! Here come the National Geographic interns exiting the star-ceiling building of zoological and cultural adventures and stepping into the heart of the intern world: Washington DC. We are now heading to the weekly Thursday evening baseball game in which the first twenty minutes are competitive excitement and the last hour is a gradual descent into beer comfort and anxiety for the flip cup event later at the Exchange! Interns mingle with the older Lions and Bison in the competitive gulfing down of beer and miraculously efficient cup flipping!

Night time entertainment is only a fraction of the fun, for as you stroll on the Mall alongside overdressed interns in sweaty work shirts and way-too-tight business dresses, you hear, echoing between the Smithsonian buildings: “Kid, the next time I say, "Let's go someplace like Bolivia," let's GO someplace like Bolivia.” A turn around the corner reveals an enormous screen with the Sundance kid and Butch Cassidy riding full speed on their horses through the Bolivian desert! So out comes the blanket, the lemonade and, once you’ve found a patch of nice grass (beware: many patches of dirt too), you can settle down for a free Screening on the Green! And with the extra highlight: the Capitol building splendidly illuminated in the background. This is only Monday. Friday is my personal favourite: head over to the sculpture garden, with its towering silver tree and massive spider encircling the fountain of jazz. A live band intercepts the squirting fountain and all the interns assemble in groups of newly found friends to put their feet in the water, sip on sangria and chill to the jazz. 

The week-filling activities are at the centre of Washington DC for the summer months during which the entire city is transformed into the capital of the 'Intern World'. The city accommodates the flock of interns in university dorms and turns every event into an intern must. Even locals note the change, saying: “Intern. Intern. Intern” as they spot the very distinguishable youngsters talking about their National Security stories, their attendance at the Emerging Explorers Symposium or their exuberant account of their shaking the President’s hand.

As a twice-graduated intern from the Intern Capital, once in the Office of Correspondence of the White House and this summer in National Geographic Television, I have thoroughly experienced and enjoyed the life in Washington DC, but also learned to step down from the stage and become a third person observer, a critic. The truth is, interns are free labour. The topic has infiltrated media and bookstores, for example with the publishing in 2011 of Ross Perlin’s book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy which highlights the abuses of the intern culture, the demise it's caused to apprenticeships and exacerbation of social injustices.

As a response to the spread of these truths, companies are beginning to improve their intern programs, transforming into a more give and take relationship, yet the efficiency of their efforts remains open to debate. Both of my internships had a planned intern program which included talks from people high in the hierarchy who would talk about their personal story and give career advice. At National Geographic Television we had a weekly luncheon which ranged from a demonstration of how Pixar creates animated characters for some of the shows, to how the documentaries are made, to anecdotes about shoots and field adventures. I acknowledge that I learnt a lot from these luncheons and also from the willingness of staff to go out for coffee or to allow us to shadow them in their offices. 

At the end of the day, an internship is whatever you put in and take out of it. During my first month at NG I was only doing what I was asked to do, with a slight stubbornness due to my disillusionment with television. By the end I was poking my nose into offices, asking people for personal meetings and making friendships with staff: this is how one takes advantage of having a foot in the door. It was a learning experience, and I left feeling I had had an internship in the entire National Geographic Society, learning about all its different coloured and textured leaves, roots and branches, and even getting to go into the layout room of the magazine, definitely an unforgettable experience! 

Images sourced from Robert Miller, Wowitsstephen, Yonas Hassen and Erik Eti Smit. Artist in the image: Rei Alvarez.