January 25, 2021
What’s It Like to Be an Intern During a Global Pandemic?
By Amanda Go
As a Northeastern University sophomore in pre-pandemic life, I – like many other college students – was naturally brimming with questions of “What if?” What if I study abroad next semester? What if I secure an internship across the country? What if I stay in Boston the whole year, looking to grasp that still-elusive notion of “independence”?
When COVID-19 hit in March, it felt like the pandemic had stolen all my plans. I moved from my city apartment back to my hometown in suburban Connecticut, and over the subsequent months of stay-at-home orders, online classes and a canceled summer study abroad and internship, those questions of “What if?” dwindled.
Looking toward the fall, my potential opportunities seemed to further decline. Rather than doing the internship that typically comprises half a Northeastern academic year, I prepared to enroll in more online classes – until a last-minute search in my school’s career database yielded a job posting that piqued my interest.
By July, that posting turned into reality when I began my virtual public relations internship with Greentarget. Over the next six months, I learned that living and working remotely from my hometown did not diminish possibility or opportunity – that, with the right company culture and mindset, I could pursue “what ifs” as great and ambitious during a pandemic as any time prior.
Navigating a Virtual PR Internship During a Pandemic
The first days of my internship largely consisted of learning about Greentarget and the PR industry, meeting my colleagues via Microsoft Teams and completing practice assignments. Despite taking numerous PR classes in college, I realized PR in the classroom was vastly different than in practice. After initially struggling to grasp the practical uses of a media list or even remember everyone’s names, I quickly became nervous. After reading complex legal news (a definite first) to familiarize myself with topics pertinent to GT’s client base, I felt under-qualified.
Though my confidence surely increased over time, to say it was constant after those first few days, or perhaps even those first few months, would be a stretch. I made multiple mistakes, from overlooking an email and taking another intern’s assignment, to missing articles on a coverage summary, to using the wrong “your” in a pitch. Working alone in my house, states away from my colleagues – and thus unable to quickly resolve these issues in person – it was easy for me to catastrophize each one.
During my early months, I sent multiple emails and Teams messages – whether frantically apologizing for a barely late assignment or warily asking for help with a complicated research project – that I now look back on with a sort of comical nostalgia. Turns out that while I thought I’d be met with hostility or annoyance, I was consistently met with openness and reassurance. I soon saw that despite working virtually, I was surrounded by teammates, from fellow interns to senior executives, who wanted to support me and see me succeed, who encouraged asking even the smallest and silliest questions and who viewed errors with patience and understanding and as opportunities to learn. Thankfully, I can now reflect on all my little mistakes and laugh, knowing they were (contrary to my beliefs at the time) not the end of the world.
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say I understood the inclusive and caring nature of Greentarget’s culture before understanding the full uses of a media list. Through weekly staff meetings that often incorporated discussions about favorite restaurants, albums or places traveled; intern meetings that allowed my voice to be heard; and one-on-ones with teammates who never hesitated to offer project help or to just chat, I was constantly surprised at how connected I felt to my colleagues. GT even made the effort to host virtual events like escape rooms, meditation and yoga, a bartending class and even a concert from G. Love. I realized that contributing to a company that valued its employees was far more important than whether I was working virtually or in person – and that a strong culture not only could transcend this distance but was crucial to making remote work enjoyable and fulfilling.
Embracing the Unexpected
Over the following months, largely due to the immense support around me, I cultivated an unyielding attitude of positivity and tenacity that allowed big “what ifs” to resurface. What if I secure this byline in Bloomberg? What if I place this quote in Law360? Gradually, I saw myself make fewer mistakes, complete assignments with more poise and efficiency and answer more questions than I asked in the interns’ group chat. One month I was fangirling over my first response from a New York Times reporter (literally, as if from the Queen herself), and a few months later I was presenting my own PR plan addressing corporate responses to racism. As interns before me left and others joined, I realized I’d become a resource to new team members, contributing to the cycle of support that threads through GT.
Put simply, my first full-time internship was not what I expected. I didn’t expect to coordinate and sit in on interviews with CNBC reporters while drinking a green tea from the café I’ve loved since middle school. I didn’t expect to draft press releases for clients while sitting at a desk that was once covered in AP exam and SAT prep books. Above all, I didn’t expect a virtual internship during a global pandemic to be so impactful.
Through working full time while managing the trials and tribulations of living at home – shared workspaces with four family members, video meetings with my barking dog and especially the hurricane that took out our Wi-Fi for days and knocked a tree onto my car (got to love New England weather) – I learned how to not only welcome uncertainty but thrive in it. I learned that when things don’t go according to plan, and they never do, adaptability is a must. Prior to this internship, I always imagined experiences like the quintessential study abroad as the greatest catalysts for growth in college – but as I near the end of my time with GT, I see that living and working remotely from my hometown, a place I’ve known for 20 years, has, ironically enough, made me grow more than ever.
This January, I’ll return to Boston for classes after 10 months of living at home and six months of a pandemic internship. Although I soon may begin to feel the first inklings of normalcy, I’ll always carry with me what I’ve learned through my virtual experience with GT – from small bits of knowledge like using Ctrl+K to insert a link to the bold truths that big things can happen from anywhere, learning can happen from anywhere and connections and mentorships can flourish from anywhere. The only prerequisites are a proper community of support (in person or virtual) and an adaptable mindset.
Last year, I believed the pandemic was robbing me of opportunity. Today, I realize it gave me one: an unforgettable first full-time internship that otherwise may not have crossed my path.