Some insights from a Canadian gap year student who embarked on a remote writing internship
While we mostly associate internships with university students, there’s an increasing amount of people doing gap year internships. If you’re taking a gap year (good idea!), an internship could be a good thing to consider; it allows you to develop new skills, grow in confidence, and explore a certain sector that you might want to end up working in. It’s a great way get a clearer idea of the type of career that suits you, and, consequently, what you should pursue academically. Plus, in the case of our internships in Africa, it will also allow you to gain international work experience, and, if COVID-19 allows, an exciting travel adventure.
One of our recent gap year interns is Jordan Mehling. While she planned on traveling during her gap year, Jordan had to make a Plan B because of the pandemic, and joined Penda – a photography organization based in South African – as a writing intern. She was happy to share some insights about her experience as a gap year intern.
How did you first decide to do a gap year internship?
My path to finding Roots was a bit atypical! When it came time to start applying for universities in grade 12, I decided I wanted to delay my start in university to take a gap year. Originally I had planned that I would spend September – December on a backpacking trip in South America. Not too long after I had been accepted onto that trip, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and all travel came to a standstill. It soon became obvious that travel in the fall was unlikely to happen. In the weeks leading up to September, I began searching for meaningful ways I could spend the first four months of my gap year. I’ve always been very passionate about non-profit work and wanted to find a way in which I could use the next four months at home to make an impact. After spending some time looking online for programs that offered this experience, I stumbled upon Roots. I was thrilled to find out about Roots and get my application in. It seriously looked like everything I was looking for!
Did you have any reservations about doing an internship straight out of high school?
Absolutely! I had definitely concerns that I wasn’t qualified enough or experienced enough to be an intern for any organization. I knew I was a passionate writer and was eager to get involved with a non-profit, but I was worried that my lack of university education would set me back. If you are feeling this way about going into a gap year internship – don’t worry! You aren’t alone!
What did you do during your internship with Penda?
I joined Penda as a content writing intern. Essentially, I focused on updating old copy or writing new copy for Penda blogs and landing pages. Marleen and I often spent time chatting through ideas for writing assignments. The work was a perfect balance of being collaborative while still giving full freedom to be creative in how I wanted to approach the writing.
As my internship continued, I started becoming further involved in the Penda Trust side of things and took on more tasks there. I got involved in helping redesign the Penda Trust website, launch Penda’s Prints for Impact campaign, and helped with a little social media posting here and there. My tasks for Penda were super varied, with many of them being things I had never done before. Even if you don’t have previous experience in the field you are working in, you will gain a ton of valuable knowledge and learn a lot of new skills!
What were the biggest struggles of doing a gap year internship?
I didn’t have much experience in the role I was taking on, so having to learn as I went was difficult at times, but also what made it so rewarding! There are going to be things you aren’t fully confident in or aren’t sure about, but overcoming those challenges is where you learn the most. I asked a lot of questions throughout my internship. Through that, I think I learnt so much more than I would have on my own. If you aren’t confident, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
What was your favorite part of your internship?
I think the most memorable part of this internship was all the incredible people I got to connect with! The past couple of months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a bit isolating. Getting to have weekly calls with my other interns and supervisor made me feel as if I was part of a little community. Even though we weren’t in the same physical space, we all connected on a personal and work level. Those connections were amazing and quickly became my favorite part of my internship!
Is there anything you accomplished during your internship that you’re particularly proud of?
I think my proudest accomplishment was updating the design of the Penda Trust website! Joining the team as a content writing intern, working on web design was certainly something I never expected myself to do. Starting that project felt slightly out of my comfort zone, but as I got further into the design process it soon became one of my favourite things I worked on! It was a really rewarding experience spending a few weeks collaborating with Marleen on the design of the site. I absolutely admire the work Marleen does for Penda and wanted this project to be a way of showing my appreciation. Interning primarily as a writer, this was a really unique project for me to take on, but I am so proud of how it turned out!
What did you learn from doing an internship during your gap year?
Doing this internship during my gap year was invaluable. It completely exceeded my expectations in so many ways! While I learnt a lot of new skills I didn’t have coming into the internship, I think the most important lessons were the things I learnt on a personal level. This internship opened my eyes to how much I enjoy writing for communications and marketing campaigns – which is something I would have never expected for myself! I think gap year internships are an incredible opportunity to allow yourself to explore roles that you may not have imagined yourself in. There’s a lot to gain from stepping into something new and seeing what you can learn from it!
Do you have any advice for people considering doing a gap year internship?
My advice to future gap year interns is to say yes to things out of your comfort zone! It is completely normal to be nervous about joining an internship directly out of high school, but don’t let that stop you from jumping into new opportunities. Even if you don’t have formal education in the field, you can absolutely make an impact with your passion, hard work, and by saying yes to tasks you may not have ever done before. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you can learn a ton in the process!
What’s next? What are you studying at university?
Once I finish my gap year, I’ll be starting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in Canada. I am super passionate about global health and want to assist with that in a care-giving role. This isn’t related to my internship at all, but I think that’s the exciting part! During my internship, I learnt so many new skills that I hope to apply to any future career I might end up in. Doing this internship with Penda made me realize how much I do enjoy writing and want to incorporate this into my life moving forward. In terms of future careers, I would love to end up somewhere one day that combines my love for public health, non profit work, and communications in a way that makes an impact. I have no idea what that will look like, but I’m so thankful for my internship with Penda and Marleen for getting me excited about that and broadening my horizons!