Focus, Explore, Cooperate, Be Brave...
It is nearly impossible to believe that I am in my last week as an intern at the Virginia Association of Counties in Richmond, Virginia. The past two months have been unbelievably amazing. I have learned not only about the way in which local and state governments interact but also about myself. I believe that is the reason why participating in an internship opportunity is so important. Interning and living away from home was a scary concept at first, but it quickly became one of my most exciting adventures.
As a way to try to articulate all that I have learned I have decided to make my last update a self–help list for all other interns who may come to VACo after me and for anyone taking on an internship opportunity in general.
I am from a pretty rural area of the state. In fact, there are a grand total of two stoplights in my hometown, and one of them is new so most people disregard it. In Richmond, there are stoplights at least every 50 feet. I understand that these stoplights are necessary due to high density traffic. However, when you are not used to them, they can be difficult to navigate.
I admit, during my first couple of weeks in the city I ran my fair share of red lights, stopped at a few green ones, and was completely at a loss for what to do when I encountered a yellow light. I realized that this inability to follow basic traffic laws was because I was so distracted by everything around me. It did not matter if it was day time or night time; I was always too busy looking everywhere but at the stoplight ahead of me.
My advice to anyone facing this same dilemma would be to take it one light at a time. Do not panic and do not get overly distracted by what is around you or how luminous the roadway ahead of you is. The same applies to your internship. It looks scary at first, but that is because there is so much ahead of you. Focus on your work one project at a time. Get it done efficiently and to the best of your ability, then move on the next one. It will not always be smooth sailing, but you will make it through.
Since coming to the city, I have never been bombarded with so many types of food. Everything stays open way past 9 pm, and most places will even deliver directly to your front door. I had Thai food for the first time as I wrote in my first update. Since then I have branched out and experienced Cajun, Indian, Comfort food (at a restaurant named Comfort), Polish, Jamaican, and Cuban. I have eaten on a rooftop, by the James River, and in an abandoned warehouse. While you’re somewhere you can experience new things, take advantage of that! However, do so while being fiscally responsible; while living in the city, pizza rolls and carrots also became staples of my diet.
While experimenting with food has been a highlight of my experience, I also was able to explore the city. I would walk around my apartment and do my best to see a new part of the city every day. Getting lost is not always a bad thing. During my walks I met so many amazing people. I got to see things that you will not find on a map of the city made for tourists.
While in your internship, do not ever get complacent. Look around you for the opportunities that you have because they are innumerable. Also, remember that the people who you work with in your office, firm, etc. want to help you as much as they can. Take advantage of their experience, connections, and knowledge. That has at least been the case for me at VACo. Everyone here has opened their offices to me and allowed me to be a part of the work they are doing. Above all, work incredibly hard for the people that have given you the opportunity to intern; they have worked hard for you to be there.
When I started my internship, I made everything a battle. Everything was so different from what I was used to, so I automatically made every scenario a fight between home and the city. I was torn because a lot of the things I have learned changed the way I felt about convictions I held about my home. That is a scary concept. However, it is something that I have had to learn. It is also something that is incredibly important to a person’s ability to grow.
I wrote in one of my updates about how I also felt torn about my love for the city and how much I missed my home. However, Dr. Lane gave me some good advice about not making it a competition between the two. He suggested taking advantage of the opportunity that I have while in the city. He stressed that I would be able to take those lessons home with me. I also have been able to bring a lot of how things are at home to the city and share it with the people I have worked with and met.
The most important lesson I have learned at VACo is that connections between people are the most important bonds we make. The sooner we realize our common interests, the better off we will be. For instance, in Virginia, not many people understand that the most urban, inner city areas are facing a lot of the same problems that the most rural areas are facing. We have much more in common than we think. If we acknowledge that, then maybe we can extend our scope of concern from our own small area of the state or even the nation or globe to be able to make things better for everyone.
I know that sounds like a very optimistic way to look at things. While working at my internship, I have seen firsthand that things cannot be that simple. However, the work that the people at VACo do gives me hope that change is not impossible. Caring for humans does not have to nor should it stop when you get a career.
The city is big and scary, or at least that is what I thought. It is big, yes. There are some places that are not the safest, yes. But in all honesty, I have met a multitude of genuine and kind people in the city. I have met people who openly share their stories with me and want to know about me. Strangers have looked out for me, helped me cross streets, walked me to my apartment, and shown me unimaginable kindness.
Even when you’re scared during your internship, rely on the people who you work with for support. Remember that bad days are only 24 hours. Be brave because what you are doing is important, and be grateful for the opportunity you have before you.
Photo Description: Katie Beth on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol.